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Australia 15 March 2002

Journalists prevented from reporting about refugee camp in Papua New Guinea

In a letter addressed to Immigration minister Philipp Ruddock, Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders-RSF) expressed its deep concern about the hindrances met by journalists who wished to report about the asylum seeker detention centres set by the Australian government in Papua New Guinea and on the island of Nauru. "The Australian authorities must cancel the instructions given to Papuan authorities to prevent journalists access to the Manus camp", Robert Ménard declared, general secretary of the organisation. "Once again, the Australian government makes use of authoritarian practices to hide the disastrous situation of human rights in these centres", M. Ménard added. The organisation for the defence of press freedom asked the minister to apply to Papua New Guinea and Nauru authorities so that visas be granted to journalists willing to report on centres for asylum seekers.

According to information obtained by RSF, the journalists applying for visas to Papua New Guinea had their requests systematically rejected without an explanation. Greg Roberts, journalist for the daily Sydney Morning Herald, had been the first and only journalist to have had access to the refugee centre of Manus, an island of the Papua New Guinea archipelago, thanks to a tourist visa and introducing himself as a "birdwatcher". No sooner had he entered the naval base where asylum seekers mostly of Iraqi nationality were detained that he was expelled by the personnel of a private security company controlled by former members of the Rhodesian police. The next day, Greg Roberts was warned that the police and Papuan armed forces were "after him". He soon left the island. Lawrence Bunbun, an official by the Papuan ministry of Foreign Affairs, acknowledged that the Australian government had announced that "they didn’t want anyone going in to see them, that it was not the business of anyone else" under the pretext of protecting the identity of the inmates.

The asylum seekers’ centre of Manus is sheltering three hundred and sixty refugees, 80% Iraqi citizens . Doctors and hospitals around have confirmed that some inmates had contracted malaria and some others would be affected by tuberculosis and typhoid.

The Australian government had already decided on 26 January 2002, to forbid the presence of journalists at least one kilometre around the detention centre of Woomera (Australia). The Immigration minister had declared that this prohibitive measure corresponded to an "operational decision made by civil protection services in connection with the security of the inmates".


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