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Asylum News from the Australian Newspaper: The Telegraph

Tensions erupt on Manus Island as locals threaten to sabotage 'PNG Solution' detention centre

Traditional land owner

Traditional land owner Robert Wallanc blocks the dump on Los Negros Island, which the Manus Island Detention Centre is said to be using as expansion work continues. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: News Limited

AUSTRALIAN taxpayers are already pouring around $500,000 per asylum seeker into Manus Island under Kevin Rudd's rushed "PNG Solution" - but the money pot is igniting bitter clashes in the jungle between angry locals trying to cash in.

One Manus Island tribal leader is threatening to sabotage the makeshift detention centre by cutting off water this week unless its demands for 291,000 kina in "rent" are paid.

Inside the centre, local workers - who are astonished that asylum seekers are receiving free mobile phones, chocolate and ice-cream - have staged strikes to lift their pay from about 3 kina an hour.


Manus MP Ron Knight meets with the chiefs of Mokerang Village on the Island of Los Negros. Picture: Nathan Edwards

Manus MP Ron Knight meets with the chiefs of Mokerang Village on the Island of Los Negros. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: News Limited


Tempers are boiling in the steamy jungle surrounding the temporary centre - one tribal elder vowed to die before allowing construction workers access to gravel during a fiery blockade witnessed by The Daily Telegraph on the weekend.

"You can kill every one of us if you want, but we will be here - we will stand here and wait,'' village elder John Lillie told fellow Manus Island local Stenat Moli, who was stopped from digging gravel for the centre.

"Everywhere you go - dig, dig, dig digging to fill your own pocket, but what is left for us?

"The only thing is you die or we die - that's the bottom line and I am prepared to die on my land.''

Manus Governor Charles Benjamin said "things are getting bad" after the Lombrum Landowners Association shut down a dump which they claimed was being "illegally" used by the centre, which is being rapidly expanded at Manus' old military base.


Detainees at the fence of the Manus Island Detention Centre. Picture: Nathan Edwards

Detainees at the fence of the Manus Island Detention Centre. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: News Limited


After detailing his demands in a letter on Friday, the landowners' leader, John Lou, said that unless $291 kina was paid within 72 hours, the clan would consider cutting water supplies and blocking entry to the base.

Manus national parliamentarian Ron Knight, the son of an Australian soldier who served in PNG in World War II, said it was "make or break time because no one is happy".

"We don't want any more Australian companies here - we call them carpet baggers,'' he said. "This is Boomerang aid and Manus will lose out again.''

Tensions are also bubbling over a 50ha block of land where the Rudd government aims to build a permanent $150 million detention centre housing 600 asylum seekers and 200 workers near a school in the main town of Lorengau.


Daily life in Mokerang Village on the Island of Los Negros, joining Manus Island Picture: Nathan Edwards

Daily life in Mokerang Village on the Island of Los Negros, joining Manus Island Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: News Limited


A member of the landowners' clan said he set up a company three months ago which must have "first priority" when the WA builder Decmil subcontracts work.

"Everything must go through us,'' Allan Pomat, of the Rossun Peren clan, said. "I have told Decmil's people that it's my way or you take the highway - but we are being kept in the dark until after the (Australian) election.''

Australian government officials are planning to meet the clan on Tuesday as a land deal must be reached before any building work begins.

Money is raining down on Manus, as the Rudd government desperately tries to expand Manus' asylum seeker facilities in a bid to win back voters following the costly explosion in boat arrivals under Labor's watch.

More than $240 million in contracts relating directly to Manus have been signed up between October and July, according to the government's Austender website.


Small boats transport detention centre workers from HMAS Chouless. Picture: Nathan Edwards

Small boats transport detention centre workers from HMAS Chouless. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: News Limited


But this doesn't include another $75 million being paid to the Salvation Army for "welfare and support services" at both Manus and Naru over 12 months and $66 million to the Singapore-affiliated International Health and Medical Services for work at both Pacific locations.

The $240 million also doesn't include hundreds of thousands of dollars spent since Mr Rudd's surprise July announcement jetting supplies into PNG on giant Russian Antonov cargo planes under Toll's logistics deal with the Immigration Department, which was worth $11 million last year.

With estimated costs sitting around $300 million, this would equate to $500,000 for each of the 600 asylum seekers which are expected to be housed temporarily at the old US bomber base.

Another $400 million will be directed to the PNG government under an expansion of the AusAID program.

More than 400 asylum seekers are believed to be at Manus now, with staff being told another 200 will be flown in during the final week of the election campaign.

Two workers at the centre said they were surprised at the generous facilities for asylum seekers, which include an internet cafe, gymnasium and pool hall.


MP Ron Knight meets with the chiefs of Mokerang Village on the Island of Los Negros. Picture: Nathan Edwards

MP Ron Knight meets with the chiefs of Mokerang Village on the Island of Los Negros. Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: News Limited


"They have good food - bacon and eggs, nice meat, sweet biscuits, vanilla and chocolate ice cream, and the Salvation Army gives everyone a phone,'' said one of the workers, who is paid 252 kinas for a 12-day fortnight.

The workers said that G4S' PNG security workers - who are paid about $180 a week while Australian guards are pocketing $2000 - manned a strike over pay recently, while cleaners mounted a smaller protest last week.

Mr Benjamin said the people deserved to "see in black and white" what the island would be receiving to assist its development.

He said it was critical Manus was given commitments on funding to modernise its water and power supplies, upgrade its hospital and improve roads and schools.


Daily life in Mokerang Village on the Island of Los Negros, joining Manus Island Picture: Nathan Edwards

Daily life in Mokerang Village on the Island of Los Negros, joining Manus Island Picture: Nathan Edwards Source: News Limited


He claimed it was "crazy" that asylum seekers were flown to a private hospital in Australia to have their teeth removed about three months ago, rather than using the hospital.

This claim could not be confirmed but local doctor Bringfried Molean said two pregnant women and another asylum seeker who had badly cut his hand had been flown to Christmas Island, rather than use the hospital in Lorengau.

"Money is going everywhere and we were promised the hospital would be fixed up at the start of the year but we are still waiting,'' he said.

Trupla Mangi Mwanus!

 
Political waters of Manus Island hard to navigate

 

Ron Knight PNG

Ron Knight at home on Manus Island / Pic: Nathan Edwards Source: DailyTelegraph

THE wild man of PNG politics, Ron Knight, likes to keep crocodiles under his seaside bar on Manus Island - but he's discovering that Port Moresby's political sharks are also dangerous.

After speaking out last week against how Kevin Rudd's PNG solution is being managed in Manus, the rookie MP says political retribution may be coming his way.

As locals vent their fury over not being included in detention centre contracts, Mr Knight, 47, who was elected to PNG's national parliament as Manus' MP last year, said it was possible he would lose his government posting as the vice-minister for trade.

IS MANUS ISLAND TRULY A PARADISE?

"I had to make a choice: do the right thing for my people and lose the position or look after myself and lose my people,'' he said. "But what is right is right and wrong is wrong and there is no grey in between.''

Mr Rudd's sudden deal with Prime Minister Peter O'Neill to expand Manus' asylum-seeker facilities has triggered a wave of shadowy dealmaking among PNG politicians as they carve up the spoils of $400 million extra in aid grants and project contracts which are already worth more than $300 million.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Children in class at the East Lorengau Primary School.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Children in class at the East Lorengau Primary School. Source: News Limited

 

An influential tribe, which controls land around the temporary centre on an old military base, is also threatening to cut off water supply and block entry points.

Mr Knight, whose New Generation Party is part of Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's government, is making political enemies by insisting that Manus people receive a fair share of work contracts, rather than menial jobs paying 3 kina an hour.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Daily life in the market at main town of Lorengau.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Daily life in the market at main town of Lorengau. Source: News Limited

 

He also described as "miserable" the PNG government's commitment to allocate between 18 million kina and 24 million kina to Manus infrastructure development, which will be matched by Ausaid moneys.

He is no longer on speaking terms with Manus Governor Charlie Benjamin, who locals have accused of "running scared" by trying to balance the interests of Mr O'Neill and the Manus community.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Daily life in the market at main town of Lorengau.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Daily life in the market at main town of Lorengau. Source: News Limited

 

Mr Knight, who grew up in Manus after his father, an Australian Navy sailor, and his Bendigo-born mother settled there in the 1960s, owns a local stevedoring business and has eleven children to seven women.

"This has already caused so much trouble and it will probably get worse - we could see big protests outside the (detention centre) gates before long,'' he said.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. A father and son cut long grass on the side of the main road.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. A father and son cut long grass on the side of the main road. Source: News Limited

 

"It's takes a lot to make Manus people angry - not like Highlanders who go from hot to cold quickly - but it also takes a long time to cool Manus people down.''

Mr Knight's life has been a Pacific adventure - diving off the wrecks of US warships as a kid, spearfishing marlin and wrangling crocodiles.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Daily life in the market at main town of Lorengau.

Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Daily life in the market at main town of Lorengau. Source: News Limited

 

But if his political career becomes a casualty of the hot-button asylum-seeker issue he won't be too worried.

"I have my food in front of me,'' he says, pointing to the sea in front of his home and bar. "In the end, as long as my kids can go to school and I can go spearfishing, I'm happy."

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Manus to receive first asylum seekers

Post Courier 8th November 2012

By ISAAC NICHOLAS

THE Australian and PNG government have announced an additional development package for the people of Manus that should now pave the way for the arrival of the first refugees for processing over the next coming days.

The additional package, which will run into millions of kina and target infrastructure maintenance and upgrading projects on the Island was announced yesterday by PM Peter O’Neill and Australian High Commissioner to PNG Ian Kemish.

Mr O’Neill said the joint initiative on the development package was agreed to between the Manus provincial govt and the Australian and PNG govts.

He said the Australian High Commissioner and Manus Governor Charlie Benjamin did a joint trip to Manus where they identified a number of projects which will be undertaken.

The PM said the additional package will include the maintenance and upgrading of the Lorengau General Hospital, building of 20 new classrooms for Manus schools, maintenance and upgrade of Manus provincial high school, upgrade and sealing of Momote airport to Manus, Lombrum and Lorengau town roads and upgrade of Lorengau market.

“Immediately we have agreed to carry out a few projects including maintenance and upgrading of Lorengau General Hospital which has been run down for quite some time so the Australian and PNG govts will fund that upgrade and maintenance of the hospital,” Mr O’Neill said. “Also we agreed to build 20 new classrooms, upgrade Lorengau high school and try to give better education to our children.

“We are also embarking on a program which will upgrade and seal all the roads between Momote airport to Lorengau town, Lorengau town road upgrade and sealing and also from down to Lombrum Naval Base which the Australian and PNG govt have agreed to undertake immediately.

“As far as the Lorengau market is concerned, the Australian High Commissioner had an opportunity to visit the market and we will upgrade the facilities at the market so our people can use it better.

“I want to thank the Australian govt for their support and we look forward to receiving the first refugees as and when the Australian govt is ready. I understand the facilities at Lombrum are ready to take in refugees for processing,” Mr O’Neill said.

Australian High Commissioner Mr Kemish said the Australian govt is committed to abiding by the agreement in the MOA between the two countries to develop a substantial development package for Manus, on top of existing development programs.

“We appreciate the PM’s leadership and govt intention to work hand in hand with us in the sustainable development of Manus Island,” Mr Kemish said

“We very much appreciate the generosity of the Manus people and the co-operation with the Governor and the Member for Manus.


 

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