Australia’s immigration head Mike Pezzullo has been accused of joking about the situation asylum seekers face days before the expected closure of the Manus Regional Processing Centre on October 31.
In a Senate Estimates hearing on Monday, October 23, Pezzullo was grilled by Greens Senator Nick McKim, who was concerned that water and power would be cut off despite the intention of at least 606 men to stay at the facility. McKim said the refugees would then be denied basic human rights, to which Pezzullo answered “they don’t have human rights to trespass a naval base” – the facility will be returned into a Papua New Guinea (PNG) naval establishment in light of a constitutional ruling from PNG’s Supreme Court.
The debate heat up when McKim accused the government for “torturing them for four and a half years” and that officials can “spare us the fake sympathy.” Pezzullo said the “the only torture I am aware of is sometimes when we have to appear here,” making some members of the audience giggle. “I don’t think torture is a laughing matter,” said McKim.
The government said local accommodation and support would be provided for asylum seekers before Manus’ closure however the United Nations said the people would be rendered “homeless and destitute” with “no income support and little chance of finding work to provide for their food,” The Guardian reported. Local media said the men could be in danger if they were moved to East Lorengau, PNG, or to another detention centre on the Micronesian island of Nauru.
The first group of refugees from Manus arrived in the US in September as part of a resettlement deal Australia struck with the US. Credit: Australian Parliament via Storyful