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Australia sends first asylum seekers to Manus

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On 20th November 2012, a charter plane flew from the Australian territory of Christmas Island to the Papua New Guinean island of Manus. On board were 19 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Iran. They were accompanied by Australian officials and medics.

The 19 asylum seekers were the first inmates of the newly reopened camp on Manus. The camp is expected to hold 600 people when running at full capacity. It was closed down by the new Australian government in 2007. In 2007, the Australian Labor Party came to power promising to close down the camp on Manus, and another on the Pacific Island of Nauru. The camps had been established in 2001 by the previous government of John Howard. However, in August 2012, because of the large number of asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat, the Labor government announced that it was to reopen the camps.

The Member of Parliament for Manus in the Papua New Guinea parliament, Ronnie Knight, texted The Australian newspaper to confirm that they had arrived. The text read, 'Nineteen arrived, all families….Full riot squad unit on ground to make sure things run smooth.'

While public opinion on Nauru was said to be in favour of the re-opening of the camp there, on Manus, the local people are angry that they have been excluded from contracts for the renovation of the camp and that G4S, the security firm, has been appointed to guard it. Local landowners have been protesting outside the camp.

The first inmates arrived on Nauru on 14th September 2012. On 19th November 2012, Amnesty International visited the camp and condemned the conditions there. Nine of the 387 inmates are on hunger strike. One, an Iranian called Omid, has not eaten for 40 days.

In August 2012, the Australian government announced that it was intending to reopen the camps to send a message to asylum seekers not to take the dangerous boat journey from Indonesia to Australian territory. Chris Bowen, the Australian immigration minister said that he hoped that, once the camps had reopened, the 'no advantage' message would get through to asylum seekers. The 'no advantage principle' states that asylum seekers should gain no advantage if they reach Australia by boat because they will still end up in a camp in the Pacific and will not have their claims processed any quicker.

It is apparent that the message is not getting through. Two more boats were intercepted by Australian forces on the night of November 20th. One, carrying 55 passengers, was intercepted off the Cocos Islands. Another, containing 82 passengers, was stopped off Christmas Island.

Australian opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said 'Labor can't stop the boats and the fact that we've got so many people in detention, so many people in the community and we've got 2,000 showing up every month, I think, is a complete demonstration of the government's failure.'

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