Asylum seekers on Manus Island are living in a cobbled-together detention centre, amid heavy security and in a very tense atmosphere, a Papua New Guinean judge says.
Justice David Cannings and a court-appointed party visited the facility on Tuesday morning as part of an inquiry into whether asylum seekers’ basic human rights are being met.
Once inside, Justice Cannings found the atmosphere to be tense, and that several asylum seekers were in agitated states and had to be calmed.
“That’s a factual observation,” he told the court in Lorengau, the Manus capital, on Tuesday.
“As for reasons for that, one can speculate. The very presence of a judge and perhaps the knowledge or partial knowledge of the transferees that the judge was coming to observe added to the tension.”
Transferees tried to talk to the court party about the poor condition of the toilets, making suggestions they were “scrubbed up for the (court) party”, Justice Cannings said.
Public solicitor Frazer Pitpit told the court asylum seekers who tried to talk to the court party were prevented by guards.
“Every time the transferees would try to get the attention of the party … they clearly have the security try to suppress them from approaching the party,” he said.
However, he said this may have been for genuine security reasons.
Justice Cannings – who did not directly address the transferees – also observed that asylum seekers were mostly sleeping in large, 40-man dormitories.
“The authority has done the best it can, but the facility seems to have been cobbled together at short notice,” he said.
“It is obviously not a facility that was dealt with as a coherent whole.”
Medical facilities appeared well equipped and clean, he said.
Asylum seekers and staff ate the same food, but “the dining facilities were not overly clean and hygienic”, he said.
The PNG government’s lawyer and member of the court party, Ian Molloy, said the asylum seekers appeared clean, clothed and healthy.
Since the fatal riot on February 17 in which 23-year-old Reza Berati died, asylum seekers have been prevented from leaving the compound for recreational activities.
The court also heard 104 Pakistani and 13 Indian asylum seekers enjoyed playing cricket on these excursions before February 17.
“Since the disturbances all activities have been curtailed,” Justice Cannings said.
The inquiry on Wednesday will hear the testimonies of four asylum seekers who will speak through translators.
Australian public health specialist Dr Paul Crouch-Chivers is expected to visit the centre and inspect the health of transferees.