Ben Winch

writer / rocker

Protect the Men on Manus Island

An open letter to whoever’s listening in Australian politics

November 3rd 2017

Dear Australian Politician,

As I’m sure you must know, there is a humanitarian crisis on Manus Island. 600 men are without food, water or security in a place that doesn’t want them at the mercy of an army that has proved itself hostile. There is every chance – according to both western experts (eg the UNHCR and Human Rights Watch) and officials on Manus Island (eg MP for Manus Ron Knight) – that there will be bloodshed. In fact, there already has been: detainees have been beaten and even killed by forces supposedly there to protect them. Meanwhile the locals are looting the detention centre. Surely no-one believes this can end well.

Of course there are those – like Peter Dutton – who would like us to believe the men on Manus are simply causing trouble. They wanted to leave the centre, and now that they’ve got their wish they’ve changed their minds, says Mr Dutton. But I think we all know this is spin. If they had somewhere better to go, of course they would go there. They are currently risking their lives because they do not have somewhere better to go. And where should they go? To resettlement in Manus, where they are not welcome? To a new centre that by all reports is not even built yet, where security will be still more lax than in the place they have left? Or back to where they came from, to countries they fled from fear of death or torture?

I understand, of course, that to some extent they are not wanted in Australia either. The Labour and Liberal parties must believe this, or they would not let Manus Island happen. But to dump those 600 men in Laurengau – a town of 6000 people, which is already (by Australian standards) poverty stricken, where police already struggle to maintain rule of law – is like dumping 400,000 men in Sydney during an unprecedented crimewave. It is not realistic. It is dangerous. It cannot work. By contrast, bringing those 600 men to Australia, though it would mean eating some humble pie for the politicians who endorsed the Manus Island “solution”, is sane and achievable. In the absence of another option, it is not only the only decent thing, but the only rational thing to do.

I hope and presume you understand: this is a public relations disaster. If those men are hurt, we as Australians will be despised. These sorts of actions, as has been proven in Afghanistan and Iraq, do not make us safe. They make us enemies. And though the Australian government may reassure itself that PNG is powerless, the whole world is watching: Manus Island is now in the Washington Post and the London Times, on Al Jazeera and the BBC. We look despicable. To play this kind of political game with PNG, a country already torn apart by its own internal conflicts, is bad enough. To use these asylum seekers as pawns in the game is even worse.

Mr/Ms Politician, I’m aware my letter has already gone on too long. It’s hard to contain myself when I’m this appalled. I can’t believe this situation still goes on! Surely by now the only thing stopping those men from being welcomed in Australia is pride – the pride of Mr Dutton, who behaves so like a spoilt child; the pride of all those who imagined this situation could end well. But Mr Dutton was wrong. Manus Island is not a solution, just another problem, more dangerous and more costly than the problem it replaced. Turn back the boats? It’s not so simple. A solution must be found to the problem of people smuggling, but that is not why I’m writing. I am writing because this problem, the problem of Manus Island, is now a matter of life and death. It is URGENT. As a voter, nothing disturbs me more than this issue. I DO NOT WANT THIS BLOOD ON MY HANDS. As compared to marriage equality (which I support) or even the Adani coalmine (which I do not), this is dynamite. I – and, I believe, many people, especially those younger than me – will simply not trust any politician who is not on the right side of this debate.

Mr/Ms Politician, I beg you, please make yourself heard. Nothing in Australian politics right now is more important than this. I hope and pray you will do the right thing.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Winch


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