Doctors from the international aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) were left “frustrated and disappointed” after they were refused entry to Manus Island compounds despite approval to do so.
MSF were given permission by Papua New Guinea’s immigration authorities last week to medically examine hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees.
But they say that when they arrived at the centres, the private security contractors stationed outside the facilities refused the team access.
Violence and unrest flared at the Manus Island detention centre on the weekend as PNG officials moved the 328 men remaining in the decommissioned facility to new camps.
Social media posts, corroborated by eyewitness accounts, showed men with injuries on their bodies they say came from beatings by PNG police wielding long sticks.
MSF Australia president Stewart Condon, who was also part of the medical team, said he was concerned about the impact of the violence in the detention centres.
“We’d been trying to gain access for some time. We’d made a preliminary assessment two weeks beforehand,” Dr Condon said.
“And once we were given that approval, it was great for us. We thought this was a real opportunity for us to give a good medical view on what was happening.”
Dr Condon said he and his team secured approval from PNG authorities ahead of their arrival on the island.
“PNG immigration [gave us permission to enter the camp]. We were talking to all the right people. We’d been speaking to people on the ground, in Manus Island and in Port Moresby,” he said.
“We were really disappointed and frustrated we weren’t able to get through the gate effectively each day that we tried.
“If you’re an independent medical humanitarian organisation like MSF and you want to get inside, it’s extremely difficult and at the moment impossible.”
Detainee found non-communicative, suicidal
Dr Condon said the medical team’s refused entry to the Manus Island facilities meant many people in need of medical attention were left untreated.
One detainee was taken to hospital after he was found dehydrated, malnourished and showing signs of severe depression, according to Dr Condon.
“That was quite concerning, he was almost non-communicative. The next day, he was marginally improved, but unfortunately that evening he got worse again,” he said.
“In fact, he had clear thoughts of suicidal ideation, and this is exactly the reason why we wanted to assess them independently inside the transit centres.”
Despite their barred entry, the MSF medical team were able to perform medical check-ups on men from the detention centres outside of the camp gates.
“The men were coming and going freely. They were coming out and we were trying to see if there were any who were injured,” Dr Condon said.
“We certainly met some on the road and we were trying to encourage them if they needed X-rays to go to the hospital.”
Dr Condon said ultimately, MSF’s inability to get inside the camps was a major missed opportunity.
“This opportunity could have been used in a great way, I feel,” he said.
“For us to be able to go in as a medical team and look at the water and sanitation situation additionally would have been fantastic.”