|Refugees in their own land...a recent scene from a Manam displaced persons camp in Bogia, Madang province.-Picture courtesy of NATIONAL DISASTER SERVICE|
This is because landowners on Bogia - on the mainland where three care centres for displaced Manam islanders totaling about 14, 000 are - do not want any more refugees on their land.
Only about 3,000 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, said 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.
Former politician and Madang businessman Sir Peter Barter, when contacted today, 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”