Australian medical group wants access to Manus Island asylum seekers

Detainees stage a protest inside the compound at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea. There are more than 400 asylum seekers languishing inside the recently closed detention center. (Refugee Action via Reuters)
Updated 18 November 2017
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Australian medical group wants access to Manus Island asylum seekers

MELBOURNE: Australia’s main medical association called on Saturday for the government to allow independent doctors and other health experts to help more than 400 asylum seekers languishing inside a recently closed detention center in Papua New Guinea.
The asylum seekers have shut themselves inside the Australian-run Manus Island Center for the past 18 days, defying attempts by Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) to close it in a standoff the United Nations describes as a “looming humanitarian crisis.”
Australia has shut access to the center and staff, including doctors, have left, leaving the men without sufficient food, clean water, power or medical care.
Members of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) voted unanimously on Saturday to call on the government to grant access to the center so doctors could assess the men’s health, wellbeing and living conditions.
“The AMA has made many representations on this matter, both publicly and in private but, with a worsening and more dangerous situation emerging on Manus, the federal council strongly believes that urgent action and answers are needed,” AMA President Michael Gannon said.
“It is our responsibility as a nation with a strong human rights record to ensure that we look after the health and wellbeing of these men, and provide them with safe and hygienic living conditions.”
Government spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.
Australia’s “sovereign borders” immigration policy, under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, has been heavily criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups but has bipartisan political support in Australia.
The 421 asylum seekers on Manus island say they fear violent reprisals from the community if they move to transit centers, pending possible resettlement to the US.
Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz said via text message on Saturday that PNG officials had started to dismantle the center’s perimeter fences and food was running low.
“We are waiting drinking from the rainwater ... it’s tense feeling, we don’t have any idea what PNG will do to us. Their attitude toward us they are really aggressive,” Aziz said.
PNG’s Supreme Court ruled last year that the center breached its laws and fundamental human rights, leading to the decision to close it.
New Zealand has offered to accept 150 of the men, but Australia has declined the offer saying the priority was an existing refugee swap deal negotiated with former US President Barack Obama last year.
Under that deal, up to 1,250 asylum seekers could be sent to the United States and Australia will in turn accept refugees from Central America.


Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

Updated 9 min 21 sec ago
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Philippine president bolsters security, defense ties with Malaysia

  • Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook
  • Piracy and armed robbery against ships remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year

KUALA LUMPUR: President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reaffirmed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation when they met for the first time in Putrajaya on Monday.

The meeting took place at the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office, where both strongmen “renewed and reaffirmed the long-standing brotherhood and friendship between the Philippines and Malaysia.”

“President Duterte likewise renewed the commitment to further strengthen defense and security cooperation at the bilateral and regional level,” according to a statement from Duterte’s office.

The two neighbors have enjoyed a good relationship despite the change of government in Malaysia, as the over-60-year rule by the National Front coalition ended abruptly during Malaysia’s elections on May 9.

Both Southeast Asian leaders have a dented human rights reputation globally, although Mahathir has softened his strongman outlook since he was put in power for the second time in May.

The newly formed government led by the world’s oldest leader, Mahathir Mohamad, has vowed to restore the “rule of law” in Malaysia.

Duterte pointed out in his statement “the need to address terrorism and violent extremism in the region, as well as transnational crime such as piracy and armed robbery at sea and the illegal drug trade.”

Piracy and armed robbery against ships in the region remains an ongoing issue for leaders in Southeast Asia as oil and supplies worth billions are lost at sea each year.

Southeast Asia has become a hotbed for Daesh-inspired terrorist activities and threats, and Duterte and Mahathir reaffirmed the need to boost the security and defense ties of both nations in the Southeast Asia region.

Malaysia’s state of Sabah is facing kidnapping threats from the Mindanao-based Abu Sayyaf terrorist group.

In 2017, a large-scale kidnapping plan in Sabah and Central Philippines was uncovered by military intelligence.

The same year, Marawi was under siege from Daesh-inspired militants. The Philippines declared Marawi “liberated” from terrorism. The aftermath cost 1,000 lives with more than 350,000 people in the city displaced.

Meanwhile, Malaysia played an important role when it became the third-party broker of a long-awaited peace deal between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in 2014.

“President Duterte expressed appreciation for Malaysia’s sustained support for the quest for the just and lasting peace and development in Mindanao,” his official statement said.

Both leaders stressed the need toward “working closely together bilaterally and at ASEAN” in a region of more than 500 million where “greater stability and security in the region” is of the utmost importance.

The two countries are quietly in a land-lock over an 1878 land lease agreement on Sabah since the Federation of Malaysia was officially formed in 1963. Nevertheless, the Philippines’ long-standing claims over Sabah were off the plate during the bilateral discussion between Duterte and Mahathir.

On Sunday night before the meeting, both strongmen enjoyed watching the fight between Philippines’ world-renowned boxer Manny Pacquiao and Argentina’s fighter Lucas Matthysse.