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Tragedy of PNG's Manam islanders ... refugees in their own country


A recent scene from a Manam displaced persons camp in Bogia, Madang province. Photo: National Disaster Service

Malum Nalu, Pacific Media Centre

15 January, 2011

As if to ensure that problems continued into the new year 2011, Manam Island in Papua New Guinea's Madang province began a series of eruptions on Christmas Day and activities continued up until December 30, when larger eruptions occurred, resulting in some panic by people that have returned to Manam Island.

It goes without saying that Manam had a spectacular, natural fireworks display to mark the arrival of the new year.

It is, however, a paradox that the pyrotechnics does not bode well for the islanders, more like a harbinger of more problems to come in 2011.

At Dugalava on the island, a spokesman for the people told the provincial disaster office and former politician and businessman Sir Peter Barter that more than 1000 people needed to be evacuated and similar stories emerged from other villages right around the island.

Sir Peter released funds to purchase petrol and diesel and the provincial disaster office drove the fuel to Bogia overnight so that evacuations could take place at day break if necessary.

That’s because both the provincial and national governments had zilch to help the affected Manam people.

“Clearly they were frightened, many demanding to be relocated to the mainland,” Sir Peter said.

Tensions flared
The irony is that if they came to the mainland, more problems, maybe even death, awaited them at the hands of frustrated Bogia villagers on the mainland.

Several Manam islanders have been killed and hundreds left homeless as tensions flared up between Bogia landowners and them.

The Manams fled their island home after a volcanic eruption in 2004 and have been housed in care centres at Bogia, on the mainland, ever since.

Their presence, however, has angered local villagers.

Last year, a fight between two high school students escalated into a brawl in which one man was stabbed to death.

Reports say a mob of 500 people then set upon a care centre, burning 160 homes, killing animals and destroying food gardens.

In 2009, six Bogia men were arrested after a Manam woman was bashed and her three-year old daughter beheaded.

It is the tragic and shameful truth about the plight of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) of Manam, who have become refugees in their own province and country, loathed by fellow Madangs and neglected by both provincial and national governments.

Care centres
Around 14,000 islanders have been living in three care centres in Bogia since November 2004, after a devastating volcano eruption forced them to leave their homes on the island, which lies 30km off the mainland.

They, however, are no longer welcome.

Manam islanders displaced by the recent volcanic eruptions over the festive period may find it hard to be resettled.

This is because landowners on Bogia - on the mainland where three care centres for displaced Manam islanders totalling about 14, 000 are - do not want any more refugees on their land.

Only about 3000 people remain back on the volcanic island.

The three care centres are at the site of three former plantations which are Potsdam, Mangem and Asuramba.

Potsdam landowner, Raymond Brossueau, told me last Friday that the three plantations had been purchased by a former Bogia MP, Tim Ward, and sold to the state to be converted into care centres for displaced Manam islanders without the consent of the traditional landowners.

'National disgrace'
Sir Peter Barter, when contacted, confirmed the plight of the Manam islanders and added that it was a “national disgrace” which would be heard by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, in May this year as the government continued to turn a blind eye to it.

 Sir Peter also confirmed the animosity of the mainland people towards the islanders because of their land and suggested that the government, which had failed miserably to consult them first before allowing their land to be used as care centres, compensate them properly for this.

Brossueau said there had been major eruptions in 1997, 2004 and over the festive period but unlike 1997, when Manam islanders only stayed for a short time, they had settled at Bogia permanently since 2004.

“In terms of the Manam settlement, the governments knows the land belongs to the people and needs to be given back,” Brossueau said.

“This is particularly in relation to the Potsdam care centre.

“Manam islanders have been there since 2004.

“The government told us that after five years, they would be resettled elsewhere.

'Nothing happened'
“Since then, nothing has happened.

“We landowners have exhausted our land resources to cater for them, with has come with costs in terms of denial of business, social problems, loss of vernacular, ethnic problems and no services because the government regards everyone in the area, including us landowners, as disaster-affected people.”

There have been massive social problems, including fighting and murders, since 2004 at the three care centres as tensions flared between landowners and Manam islanders.

In one of the most-horrific cases, a Manam islander was chopped into pieces and his body parts placed in a bucket, while several of the islanders’ houses have been burned.

Many such incidents have gone unreported by the media since 2004.

“The main impact of dysfunction started in 2004 after they came in,” Brossueau said.

“We know there is ample land available to help these people, but not at these care centres.

“The state says they will give back the land as soon as they find an alternate site to resettle the Manams.

Illegally settled
“All these arrangements expired in 2009, and to us, we consider them as illegally settling on our land.

“This year, with all these issues outstanding, the state needs to address the landownership and transfer all the land titles back to the landowners.”

Sir Peter, who has helped the Manam people for 45 years through seven volcanic eruptions, said the whole sad saga would never have happened not it not been for a litany of inept politicians and ineffective public servants.

 “I’m disgusted, absolutely disgusted,” he said.

“I strongly believe that the Manam people have been abused by the government.

“The whole thing is absolutely disgraceful.

“There are problems all over the place.

Breach of rights
“It’s a breach of human rights.

 “Very soon, the United Nations Human Rights Commission will bring it up in Geneva.

“It’s aggravated by people who will not help.

“I suggest that the prime minister (Sir Michael Somare) go and sit down with the Manam islanders and the landowners.

“It’s a story which should never have been necessary to tell.

“It should have been resolved six years ago.”

There is, however, a silver lining to the dark clouds hovering over Manam Island and its people.

The Manam issue is going global and PNG authorities will be questioned about the ill treatment of the islanders by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, in May this year.

Fend for themselves
A well-placed government source told me that PNG authorities, including the Department of National Planning, would have a lot of explaining as to why they did not fund the Manam resettlement exercise for 2011.

Apparently, Manams will be left to fend for themselves for the seventh year in 2011, despite K15 million approved by the national executive council to help them.

This, according to the source, is because the approval of the K15m by NEC seemed to have gone unheeded by national planning and monitoring.

“How long will the Manam people be allowed to suffer because of some bad policy and budget decisions?” he said.

“Obviously, one would say that not too many consulations had been carried out by department of national planning and monitoring on the Manam resettlement issues, because the medium term development plan (MTDP) clearly reflects the issues relevant to Manam, and yet, it is not at all in the 2011 development budget.”

Meanwhile, the long-suffering Manam islanders continue to wait, and wait ... and wait.

About the authors

PMC profile photograph

Malum Nalu

PNG journalist

Malum Nalu is a Papua New Guinea journalist and blogger based in the capital of Port Moresby.

PMC profile photograph

Pacific Media Centre

PMC newsdesk

The Pacific Media Centre - TE AMOKURA - at AUT University has a strategic focus on Māori, Pasifika and ethnic diversity media and community development.


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