Pacific / Papua New Guinea

'Australia ruined them': Asylum seeker 'torture' at PNG's Bomana

09:15 am on 17 January 2020

Sleep deprivation could be a form of torture being used on asylum seekers detained in Papua New Guinea's Bomana prison.

Bomana Correctional Facility, Papua New Guinea Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Eighteen men remain in the Australian-built immigration detention centre in Port Moresby, where they were locked up in August after seven years on Manus Island.

About 30 have been released, malnourished and psychologically broken, after agreeing to return to the countries they fled.

The general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG, Father Giorgio Licini, has been providing pastoral care to some of those freed from Bomana.

Giorgio Licini. Photo: Facebook / Giorgio Licini

Licini said they had reported sleepless nights during their internment.

"That is what they confirm: scarcity of food, sleeping conditions very hard. No pillow, noise around the facility - in some parts there are loud speakers. I heard them mention spending nights sleepless because of noise. What they understand is that all this is done for them to sign," he said.

"I wouldn't know if it is deliberate but certainly it is hard to sleep. They are reporting being given only a simple mattress without pillow. They are reporting this kind of noise around. They are reporting malfunctioning or no functioning at all of air cons and fans. The facility is hot inside.

"If you want to torture a little bit these guys - it is a kind of psychological and physical pressure to convince them to sign this document."

Licini said agreeing to Assisted Voluntary Return (AVR) was the only way out of Bomana for the asylum seekers, who were known as the 'negatives'. Many refused to apply for refugee status in PNG, claiming they were trafficked there by Australia. Others were denied by a refugee determination process that's been labelled a farce.

Of the 18 still inside Bomana, 10 have also consented to AVR and could be out by the end of the month, he said.

Most of those released originate from Iran and are now back in Australian funded motel accommodation in Port Moresby but with no indication of when they'll be deported. Iran has stated it will not accept citizens repatriated against their will, making Licini sceptical any will be sent from PNG.

"I don't think the return to Iran is a natural option. Who is going to take Iranian refugees who signed a voluntary return under duress?

"All of them have problems with the current Iranian government. I understand most of them are willing to go back to Iran and return to their families but only if there is a radical change in government."

PNG limbo continues

About 220 men formerly detained on Manus Island for seeking asylum in Australia remain in limbo in PNG.

"It's a hard life because they have nothing to do, waiting for a solution that nobody knows what exactly," Licini said.

the 113th daily protest in the detention centre, 22-11-17. Photo: supplied

"They are quite reluctant, quite shy and reserved so they spend a lot of time in rooms at their motel which has very little outside space. Now it's seven years. Seven years is a long time and they are quite worn out."

"There's a sense of frustration, bitterness and disappointment," particularly among those released from Bomana who have "stomach problems" and find it difficult to eat.

"Sleep is a big problem. Not having a job, not keeping the mind and the body busy with something positive so they depend on sleeping pills.

"They are young people who've been destroyed."

About 60 men have been granted asylum in the United States but are still waiting to leave, while the only hope for others is private refugee sponsorship to Canada.

But at least one refugee accepted by the US has been held back because of poor health, Licini said.

"He has become mentally unstable to the point of not being able to travel.

"Even if the New Zealand option comes up I would perfectly understand if New Zealand says 'these two or five or 10, no thank you, because they are going to be a burden for the rest of their lives'."

"Australia ruined them. Why should others take people that Australia ruined? Here in Port Moresby when the offshore (process) is gone they will have no assistance, no housing, no medical care.

"Whoever is left behind is too weak to think of starting a life here, fending for themselves. These people are dead if they remain behind.

"Those who are really sick the Australians have to take them. They ruined them they have to take them."