Manus Island – a firsthand account of a humanitarian crisis

| December 18, 2017

A recent trip to Manus Island left Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Jana Favero deeply shocked and confirmed the humanitarian crisis that has developed from Australia’s asylum seeker policies. She shares her experience with Open Forum and calls for an end to partisan politics on this issue.


Human Rights Day has only just passed and as one of only eight countries involved in drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights one would hope Australia would continue to be a champion of human rights.

Instead, as I reflected on what human rights means in Australia, I felt a deep shame.

In a recent trip to Manus Island I witnessed firsthand our appalling treatment of people seeking asylum. I had been to detention centres before and, after eight years of working at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, I thought I knew what to expect in our visit. I was wrong, what I saw shocked me.

For the first time I felt truly deceived by our government, I saw firsthand how we are treating people. What our government is telling us is not what I saw.

Men were digging wells for water as their water sources had been intentionally destroyed. Men were eating, at most, one meal a day. Those transferred to the transit centres talked of the lack of water there, the fear for their safety and the lack of access to proper medical care. Doctors recommend, in their condition and with the relentless heat, that they drink 15 bottles of water a day, they receive only 3.

When in the centre, we were followed around by a growing swell of men asking for help, asking for access to medicine, asking for the right to know what was happening to them and, most importantly, asking for their freedom.

The men on Manus impressed me with their strength, resilience and camaraderie. They were obviously looking out for each other, taking us to those who were most unwell so we could try and help them.

I am not a doctor but it was obvious to me that not only is this a humanitarian emergency but a medical emergency too.

As we walked around, the questions I kept being asked were “how” and “why”. How could one human do this to another? Why doesn’t Australia see them as human beings? Questions that disturbed me and questions refugees and people seeking asylum have been asking for years with no answer.

Questions that are reasonable and deserve to be answered.

I had no answer. My only response was a heavy heart. All I could say was sorry. Sorry for the mistreatment, sorry for the abandonment, sorry for the loss of prime years of their lives. The pain and torture they are experiencing is not done in my name, but is being done by fellow Australians. A concept my mind struggles to comprehend.

I felt sick that the week after we left, the men were forcibly removed from the detention camp to the three unfinished medical facilities. I was sent footage of possessions being destroyed and sent voice messages from the men pleading for help. I felt helpless and devastated.

Everything the men warned us about, and the reasons they didn’t want to move, have since come true. The first night 57 men didn’t have a bed. There isn’t enough water or medicine in the transit facilities. The men continue to be threatened by locals, angry at their presence on their small, struggling island.

It is said that politics poisons policy. The government’s policy of offshore processing is poisonous, and in this case the poison is lethal. The only humane solution is to bring the men to safety in Australia immediately. We can and must act. This is not about politics or left and right but it is about right and wrong.

We are on the wrong side of humanity and must fight for the freedom of all those living in hell on Manus. We must stand up and evacuate the men immediately. Our inaction will result in more unnecessary pain, suffering and death.

After being inside the Manus centre, I am sure of it.

The ASRC’s report on their November visit to Manus Island can be read here.

The featured image was taken on Manus Island and shows, from left to right: Natasha Blucher, Jana Favero, Martin Wurt and Kon Karapinagiotidis.

Jana Favero
Jana has worked for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) for 7 years, where she is currently the Director of Advocacy and Campaigns. Jana’s varied career path has included communication roles in the private sector, including the dying days of Enron in London, working with women to establish social enterprises across the steppe of the eternal blue sky in Mongolia and leading a campaign to increase the effectiveness and acceptance of women as political leaders in India. These experiences sharpened her social justice values, and her work is informed by the basic belief that seeking asylum is a point in someone's life – not a definition of who someone is. Jana won’t stop advocating until people seeking asylum are treated fairly. Jana is a proud member of the Cloud Appreciation Society and, in her spare time, can be found on a flying trapeze or on a bike path with her kids in tow.

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