Rights groups and refugee advocates have protested over the Australian government's overseas detention scheme. File photo/ AFP
Papua New Guinea has deployed paramilitary police to a refugee encampment on Manus Island amid “daily” suicide attempts and rising tension there, a senior officer told AFP on Friday.
Manus Provincial Police Commander David Yapu said the unit — which has a reputation for brutal tactics — was deployed to the site where hundreds of migrants stuck on Manus are camped after trying to reach Australia.
Under Canberra’s hardline policy, the would-be refugees have been refused access to Australia and moved to the remote island and the Pacific nation of Nauru, where they have remained in limbo for years.
They had hoped that an expected win for Australia’s opposition Labor Party in May 18 elections would open up new options for resettlement.
But the election saw the surprise return to power of the conservative coalition of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the architect of the tough overseas detention regime.
The election outcome prompted a rash of suicide attempts among despondent asylum-seekers on Manus.
Morrison has boasted of “stopping the boats” and defended his policy saying it saved lives by discouraging people from making the journey to Australia.
“The deployment of a Mobile Squad Unit to the Manus Island recently has been part of the efforts to assist in reducing the attempted suicides at the East Lorengau Refugee Centre,” Yapu told AFP.
“The deployment of the unit is for three months.”
According to Yapu, there have been more than a dozen serious attempted suicides by refugees, but what he described as minor attempts have been occurring almost daily.
Those who have “attempted suicide is usually by weapons, overdose on medicines and hanging.”
“It’s become a concern to us, and that’s one way of us addressing it.”
The deployment of more than a dozen heavily armed police from a unit that has in the past been accused of rape and murder signals escalating tensions on Manus.
It is sure to cause concern to human rights groups, who have already pilloried the Australian government’s policies and the use of Mobile Squad Units in quashing previous refugee riots.
Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Adam, back in Manus after recently receiving a human rights prize in Geneva, on Thursday tweeted that at least 31 men had tried to commit suicide since the May 18 vote.
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