The refugees and asylum seekers who have barricaded themselves inside the closed Manus Island processing centre say a revived resettlement offer from New Zealand is their best hope for a new life.
As the standoff stretched into its third day, refugees called on the Turnbull government to accept New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 refugees held by Australia each year, reaffirmed by NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday.
“We are very happy to go to New Zealand. It’s the main feeling here,” Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee and unofficial spokesman for the men, told The New Daily.
Ahead of a meeting between Malcolm Turnbull and Ms Ardern, Mr Boochani urged the new NZ PM to “put pressure on the Australian government to accept the offer”.
Another Manus refugee, Pakistan man Samad Abdul, told The New Daily that “desperate and painful eyes will be watching”, imploring the leaders ahead of their meeting on Sunday: “Please make it happen.”
The group of about 600 men are now living without essential services including food, water and sanitary facilities, as photos emerged on Thursday of some digging into the ground hoping to hit water.
Russell Crowe offers to help
Labelled a humanitarian emergency by the UNHCR, the standoff is now drawing international news coverage and condemnation, while former Liberal leader John Hewson described it as an “obscenity”.
PNG first PM Sir Michael Somare, considered a father figure of the nation, also blasted the Australian government on Thursday night.
He said he was sad to see Australia and PNG “play football with the lives of refugees on Manus Island”.
Hollywood actor Russell Crowe tweeted: “Manus. A (nation’s) shame. Lives held in limbo. Lives lived in fear & despair. It’s f––king disgraceful.”
When another user suggested the Gladiator star house the men himself, Crowe replied: “I’ve thought about this. I believe I could house and find jobs for 6. I’m sure there’d be other Australians who would do the same.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton hit out at refugee advocates over the standoff, saying they were “not doing those people any favours”.
“I want to close Manus Island as quickly as possible,” Mr Dutton told the Nine Network.
“It doesn’t help when you have got the Greens telling people not to engage and move. It makes a difficult situation even worse.”
The government has urged the group to move to alternative accommodation in the town of Lorengau, but the men are refusing, citing previous outbreaks of violence to argue that the local people do not want them there.
The UN refugee agency contradicted the Turnbull government on Thursday, saying if the men were “to leave immediately, many would not find adequate or sufficient accommodation elsewhere”.
Electrical or water connections were not yet in place at the alternative accommodation and local authorities had “noted that tensions within the local community are on the rise”, the UNHCR said.
Turnbull, Ardern to talk Manus
Ms Ardern said on Thursday she would raise “New Zealand’s role and view on Manus Island” with Mr Turnbull when they meet in Sydney on Sunday.
“I think anyone would look at a situation like that and see the human face of what is an issue that New Zealand is in the lucky position of not having to struggle with, [as] Australia has,” she said.
The Turnbull government says allowing refugees to be resettled in New Zealand would lead to more asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat.
PNG officials said they could not arrange third-country resettlement, such as in New Zealand, despite the Turnbull government saying the men were PNG’s responsibility.
“There is no agreement or understanding for PNG to take on this role,” Solomon Kantha, PNG’s Chief Migration Officer, told The New Daily.
Also on Thursday, the Nauruan government confirmed a 29-year-old Bengali asylum seeker, who lived in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre, had died in a motorcycle accident.