'People will die' - Boochani sounds grim Bomana warning

11:25 am on 18 November 2019

Former Manus Island refugee Behrouz Boochani has sounded a grim warning about the fate of asylum seekers still detained in Papua New Guinea.

Former Manus Island refugee Behrouz Boochani. Photo: Twitter / Meg de Ronde

About 50 men have been locked up in the Bomana Immigration Centre for three months, an Australian built $US15 million annex to the most notorious prison in Port Moresby.

While reflecting on his newfound freedom in New Zealand last week, Mr Boochani drew attention to their plight.

"They are under too much pressure those people. Actually they punish them, because many of them refused to claim asylum in PNG, and that's why they rejected them and they jailed them," he said.

"What I know is that they deprive them to have access to phones so their families are very concerned about them. They are starving. And what I know is that they have lost too much weight. There is not medication. So those people - really we are concerned about them - and I think if they continue to keep them there, more people will die."

'People will die': Boochani's grim Bomana warning

Eight people detained on Manus Island since 2013 have died. Several took their own lives while suffering mental illness inflicted by years of indefinite detention.

Of the 1500 or so men held by Australia on the island over the last six years, about 250 remain in PNG. Almost all were moved to Port Moresby in August; refugees to hotels and motels around the city and most asylum seekers not granted refugee status to Bomana.

Mr Boochani's fear is shared by NGO Human Rights Watch. Its Australian director, Elaine Pearson, said Bomana had been designed for a single purpose.

"Cruel conditions are in place to coerce men to agree to assisted voluntary return," Ms Pearson said.

"This fits a pattern that the Australian government and PNG government have persisted with over the years, make the conditions on Manus Island so bad that people become so desperate that they want to return home."

Elaine Pearson. Photo: Human Rights Watch

Six asylum seekers have been released from Bomana after agreeing to return to the countries they fled. That's after they languished on Manus Island for six years from where they could have accepted repatriation.

It's unlikely, however, repatriation from Bomana can be considered voluntary.

"We have real questions about whether that return truly is voluntary because of the conditions that they were subjected to in Bomana," Ms Pearson said.

"People who have seen the men who've been released have described how their faces are just like bone. They've lost a lot of weight and they seem physically and mentally damaged from their experience," she said.

"We're calling on the PNG government to take steps to ensure that they have the ability to communicate with lawyers and loved ones."

Such detention violates local and international law, Ms Pearson said.

"There will be steps to challenge this detention because it is arbitrary detention," she said.

"Under international law detainees have to have the right to be able to challenge their detention, as well as the right to seek access to legal representation, and the asylum seekers who've been detained in Bomana, have been detained without any access to those rights," she said.

"So I think quite clearly this is a violation of PNG law and also of international law."