Asylum seekers detained on Manus Island were told that Papua New Guinea was dangerous, impoverished and corrupt as part of education sessions about the resettlement country.
Six PowerPoint modules seen by The Citizen were used to “educate” asylum seekers about life in PNG. The slides and accompanying notes painted a picture of a country plagued by crime, random violence and deadly diseases.
The Citizen understands the Department of Immigration and Border Protection approved the use of the modules after requesting education material be compiled by Salvation Army staff in Port Moresby. The material was collated partly to satisfy asylum seeker curiosity and answer detainees’ questions about the country in which they were being held. The answers were blunt, to say the least.
In a possible portent of the violence that was to erupt in February, leaving Iranian Reza Berati dead, the advice to asylum seekers read:
“The police will do whatever they can to try to control [a protest]. This has sometimes involved beatings, slashing with machetes and imprisonment.”
Regarding corruption, asylum seekers were told: “Police may ask for money or sexual favours in return for not imprisoning or beating you.” The notes continued: “[The police] might also commit crimes themselves, such as bashing or killing someone, in return for a small bribe.”
It is understood that the sessions were delivered by Salvation Army staff and personnel from PNG Immigration in December 2013 and January this year as part of the education and activities schedule at the detention centre.
The Australian and PNG governments confirmed on April 3 that asylum seekers sent to Manus Island and found to be refugees would be resettled in PNG and “no one will be resettled in Australia”.
The modules also provided frank details about child abuse in PNG: “Physical and sexual violence against children has been common, especially in families where the mother is also abused.”
A session on public safety covered topics including criminal gangs, tribal wars, human trafficking, crocodiles and volcanoes. Asylum seekers were also told that half of all deaths in PNG were caused by diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, rabies, HIV/AIDS, cholera and typhoid.
The presentations described living conditions as impoverished and harsh:
“People often move to the cities to find work. When they can’t find a job, they usually live in a settlement. Settlements are slum areas that usually have no reliable electricity supply, no clean water, no sewers and no garbage collection.
“Many people who live in the settlements have no income at all, and no food except what is offered to them by local charities or churches.”
In other notes seen by The Citizen, the sessions were described as giving detainees an opportunity to find out facts about PNG:
“It also empowers transferees by providing the correct information about the country they will be settled in if they are determined to be refugees and issues [sic] a visa.”
The modules, created in September 2013, drew mainly on internet sources including newspaper articles, blogs and forums.
Schedules of lessons and activities show designated periods for asylum seekers to view the blunt presentations about the resettlement country. It is not clear how many asylum seekers attended the briefings, although it is believed that they were made available to about 70% of those detained on Manus Island.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told ABC’s 7:30 program last month that “resettlement is freedom from persecution, it’s not a ticket to a first-class economy”.
After protracted negotiations, PNG agreed in early April to resettle at Australia’s expense asylum seekers found to be refugees. The first asylum seeker claims are being finalised this month.
The Department of Immigration did not respond to inquiries from The Citizen.
*This article was originally published at The Citizen