In November 2013 Amnesty International visited the Manus Island Processing Centre.

Our new report, This is Breaking People: Human Rights Violations at Australia’s Asylum Seeker Processing Centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, uncovers the truth about Manus Island and the degrading conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live.

Keep reading to discover the things you should know Manus Island but don’t get to hear about.

Manus Island and offshore processing

Manus Island is situated in Papua New Guinea (PNG), one of Australia’s regional neighbours.

The island’s first detention centre for asylum seekers was built in 2001 as part of Australia’s Pacific Solution. The last detainees of this period left Manus Island in 2004 and the Pacific Solution was dismantled in 2008.

In August 2012 the Australian Government announced a return to offshore processing and the relocation of asylum seekers to Manus Island resumed in
November 2012.

Manus Island today

There are currently 1,100 asylum seekers detained on Manus Island, all of whom are men who arrived without their families.

These men have fled war, chilling acts of torture, threats of death, or profound discrimination. Many of them have made the desperate decision to make a perilous journey from Indonesia and other countries, including Sri Lanka, to Australia.

At the time of our visit, two unaccompanied children had just been transferred back to Christmas Island and several other detainees told our researchers that they were underage.

Families are generally sent to another offshore processing centre on the small Pacific island nation of Nauru, operated under a separate series of agreements between Australia and that country.


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Is it worth the cost?

Although the Australian Government has released no precise estimate of the cost of the offshore facility on Manus Island, Australian taxpayers will spend over one billion dollars this year on Manus Island and its sister detention centre, Nauru.

That’s more than half a million dollars per asylum seeker.

To date, only one asylum seeker held on Manus Island since the facility reopened in November 2012 has been granted refugee status and none of the Australian immigration officials Amnesty International spoke to could give a time frame for the process for other asylum seekers.

Life as a detainee on Manus Island

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like as a detainee on Manus Island?

We spoke to asylum seekers and this is what they told us.

Common asylum seeker complaints on Manus

1. Enduring a terrifying and humiliating journey.

2. Overcrowded conditions with little or no privacy.

3. Little relief from the stifling heat and humidity.

4. Sometimes less than 500ml of water per person.

5. Insufficient health services.

6. Queuing for hours for food in stifling heat and no shade.

7. Not enough toilets or showers.

8. No shoes.

9. Little or no contact with family loved ones.

10. Gay men persecuted for their sexuality.

“I get about four to five hours sleep a night, due to tension, and having nothing to keep me busy. I am just thinking and thinking through the night. I am mostly thinking about how I can’t do anything for my family.

“I get up at 9 am. I shower, though the water pressure is low and the showers are dirty. I asked G4S about fixing the water pressure, and they told me to go home if I want a good shower.”

- S.R., a 30-year-old from Pakistan, describing his life in the Oscar

“We use this to pass the time. It is no laughing matter. We pretend to play
and it brings back memories of home. We sit here and cry for three hours every day.”

- An asylum seeker describes how he passes the time. He and another man had drawn a large television, DVD player and games console on the inside of a sheet. Using strips of bed sheet, they had made two mock electrical cords, at the end of which were two mock games controllers made from cardboard, with buttons drawn on them.

“The food is edible. But there are a lot of flies in the food. They even found a human tooth in the food.”

- R.A., a 20-year-old English language student from Iran.

“I put in 10 requests for shoes. Someone told me that there are only 14 pairs available. I can’t walk without them.”

- W.M, a 37-year-old maintenance man and father of five, from Pakistan

In Myanmar, our lives were in danger, and here they are also in danger. At least in Myanmar we were with our families - our wives, children, brothers and sisters.

T., an asylum seeker from Myanmar

“I have had to struggle to get telephone access. Eventually I was allowed to go to the phones. The connection was very bad and I could only talk to my family for two to three minutes.”

- V.M., a 29-year-old clothing business owner from Bangladesh

“There have been many requests from the men in Delta compound for exercise. We were given three treadmills but two were then taken away immediately. The one left is not plugged in to anything.”

- H.M., a 29-year-old information technology student from Sudan

“In Myanmar, our lives were in danger, and here they are also in danger. At least in Myanmar we were with our families - our wives, children, brothers and sisters.”

Human rights violations on Manus

1. Refoulement

2. Arbitrary detention

3. Discrimination

4. No legal protection

5. Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment

- T., from Myanmar

Conditions on Manus Island


Asylum seekers are detained on Manus Island in crowded accommodations - one dormitory houses 112 detainees.

Personal space is limited throughout the entire detention centre.

Access to water

In the largest compound, Oscar, 500 men receive only a dozen bottles of water per day to share between themselves.

This amounts to less than 500ml of water per person per day which is  extremely insufficient, especially given the heat and humidity.

Medical services

Medical facilities in the centre do not meet the growing demand for health services. Requests by medical staff for basic measures that would improve health and sanitation have received no response.

One of the asylum seekers detained on Manus Island is a person with dwarfism. Despite his obvious difficulty in going about daily life at the detention centre, his repeated requests for simple accommodations have fallen on deaf ears.


What is a refugee?

Under international law, a refugee is a person who:

  • has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion
  • is outside the country of his or her nationality (or, if stateless, outside the country of his or her former habitual residence)
  • is unable to avail himself or herself of that country’s protection or is unwilling to do so because of such fear.
  • A person is entitled to the protections of the Refugee Convention as soon as these conditions are met.

    There is little or no access to phones and internet, making contact with family and friends very difficult.

    Detainees queue for hours in the blistering sun and frequent downpours to receive their meals because the dining facilities are too small for everyone to sit at once.

    The clothing provided to asylum seekers is usually limited to one or two t-shirts and pairs of shorts, two pairs of underwear, and a single pair of socks. Detainees receive flip-flops but no shoes, meaning that they cannot take part in the short excursions outside the detention centre that are among the few activities offered to detainees.


    Although detainees are given bars of soap and shampoo, the supply is insufficient and there is often no hand soap in the toilets.  

    There are too few showers and toilets to accommodate the number of men in the facility, resulting in more queuing and unhygienic conditions.

    Mental health

    The conditions on Manus Island contribute to a range of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, lack of sleep and trauma, especially for men from war zones. Despite this, the mental health facilities in the detention centre are inadequate.

    What needs to happen?

    The Australian Government must:

    Want to help refugees and asylum seekers?

    The Australian Government’s offshore asylum seeker detention policy is kept secret from the people who pay for it: YOU.

    Visit our interactive website Secrets and Lives and demand the truth about offshore processing.

    What secrets do you want answers to?

    • promote and facilitate the development of refugee law and refugee protection to those travelling in countries in Southeast Asia
    • encourage Southeast Asian states to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention
    • work with states in the region to develop their capacity to assess asylum claims and protect refugees
    • ensure no one is returned to persecution, ill-treatment or armed conflict
    • use the newly constructed compound in the Manus Island detention centre to relieve crowding in the other compounds
    • redesign the older compounds to ensure detainees are not held inhumanely.

    The PNG Government must:

    • ensure that asylum seekers are not arbitrarily detained within its territory
    • work with UNHCR and the Australian Government to remedy the inadequacies of its Refugee Status Determination processes
    • develop a resettlement policy that identifies clear, practical measures to be taken to facilitate refugees’ access to housing, employment, education, and health services and otherwise promote their effective
      integration into PNG society.