manus asylum seeker refugee

For up to 20 men, Saturday May 18 was make or break. Detained for up to six years without concrete plans for resettlement in what the United Nations has long called torturous conditions, many on Manus Island and Nauru saw a Shorten government as their last hope. Despite Labor’s support for offshore processing, the party accepted New Zealand’s offer of resettlement and the medivac legislation.

After the Coalition’s victory, many detainees’ mental health deteriorated and several attempted suicide. Iranian-Kurdish journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani and Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz Muhamat have been reporting daily instances of detainees’ self-harm, and the former claims the situation is “an extreme emergency” as the hospital is unable to facilitate patients.

But you wouldn’t know it from Australia’s major papers. Neither News Corp nor Nine’s metros have covered the news.

Australia’s coverage

Coverage of this situation has largely fallen to the usual online suspects, such as SBS, The Guardian, ABC’s AM, and news.com.au, as well as the increasingly bold team at The Project. These stories combined first-hand reports from detainees with analysis from advocates and comments on broader policy options under Labor/Coalition (such as US resettlement, or the Coalition’s renewed attempts to repeal the medivac laws).

News.com.au‘s original reporting was syndicated across The Coffs Coast Advocate and The New Zealand Herald. The Bendigo Advertiser cited the incidences while profiling a refugee advocate on how they intend to progress post-election. Vice and Yahoo News Australia aggregated much of the available information, while Junkee delivered a similar report along with a non-answer from the Department of Home Affairs on the exact number of suicide attempts.

But the only acknowledgment of the suicide attempts in Australia’s major papers came in The Australian, couched underneath news that “Medevac applications surge after election”. There’s been zip in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Herald-Sun or Daily Telegraph.

Either distracted by post-election coverage, disinterested in the story, or numb to the already record levels of mental illness amongst detainees, our major outlets have nearly completely ignored this story.

Around the world

New Zealand is home to one of the most consistent outlets for reporting on Manus and Nauru: RNZ. The radio station has covered the current spike in self-harm and has had almost weekly coverage of events missed by even Australia’s most dedicated outlets — notably the detention of men in PNG police cells, regular health updates, and even the story of refugee Ezatullah Kakar winning a local kickboxing tournament

A wave of international outlets have covered the news too. Muhamat and Boochani gave comments for in-depth reports from Al JazeeraThe Washington Post and CNN/CNN Philippines. These stories all included broader context on Australia’s immigration detention system. 

News coverage from The Washington Post.

The BBC — while largely relying on existing tweets and statements — included statistics on what has happened to people seeking asylum by boat, the difficulties in assessing self-harm cases, and the relevant policies of Australia’s leading political parties. 

Thanks to copy from AFP, the story also made headlines across the UK (The Telegraph and Daily Mail), India (Times of India, News18, and, oddly, development website Devdiscourse), China (Global Times), Pakistan (The News International), Indonesia (Jakarta Post), Lebanon (The Daily Star), Luxembourg (RTL Today), Myanmar (Eleven Media Group), Cambodia (The Phnom Penh Post), Philippines (Manila Standard), Singapore (The Straits Times), South Africa (Mail & Guardian) and even Tanzania (The Citizen).

Time has similarly gone off CNN‘s reporting, while Kurdish media network Rudaw created its own aggregated report leading with the (geographically incorrect) news that “At least 12 refugees in Australia have attempted suicide since the re-election of the conservative government earlier this week”.

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14, and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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