Asylum-seekers taken safely to Manus would have known victims
Kevin Ricketts in Port Moresby
Canberra Times
28 October 2001

The 225 mainly-Iraqi asylum seekers detained in Papua New Guinea probably had 'connections' with the more than 350 Iraqis who drowned off Indonesia a week ago.

Canberra-based country representative for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Dennis Nihill, said the PNG detainees had been told of the disaster.

'They were upset, no. I would say saddened by the news,' he said.

'They would have had some connections, if not families, with the people who drowned, since both groups were headed for Australia and would have been in Indonesia for some time.

'We have given them a list of survivors.'

There are 44 survivors of what could be the region's worst refugee tragedy.

Mr Nihill said a satellite TV had been set up at the PNG asylum seekers' processing facility in Manus Island Province so that they could monitor news on the Indonesian disaster, watch developments in the Middle East, including the Afghan war, as well as regular programs.

Press clippings on the tragedy had also been flown in to the detainees after news broke mid-week of the mass drowning on October 19.

Mr Nihill confirmed reports that some 225 displaced people became agitated after they were landed on remote Los Negros Island and bused to Manu' Lombrum Island Defence Force Base early in the week.

'They said they thought they going to Australia, but Australian officials said they never told them that,' Mr Nihill said.

'They said they had been misled.'

Mr Nihill said this led to unruliness among some of the men and IOM local representatives Mark Getchell and Steve Hamilton were summoned on Tuesday night to calm the situation.

'By the time Mark and Steve got there, the tension had gone and the asylum-seekers' spokespeople agreed to work and cooperate with IOM as it processes their claims for refugee status,' he said.

Mr Nihill said about 30 to 40 of the detainees had also ended a hunger strike.

Meanwhile, an Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) delegation visting PNG has said that Australia should have taken the asylum-seekers now languishing in PNG and the fellow Pacific island state of Nauru.

ACTU assistant secretary, Bill Mansfield said: 'Australia is interfering with PNG's right as a sovereign nation and it should be an issue of concern in PNG.

'These people wanted to take refuge in Australia, not be sent to a camp off the north coast of PNG. There would be a lot of tension in that camp and I would not be surprised if there was violence in that camp at some point.' AAP

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