Sixth Manus Island death signals a system in chaos as Australian exit looms

The sixth asylum seeker to die on Manus Island under Australia's watch registered barely a ripple.

Rajeev Rajendran, a Tamil refugee who fled Sri Lanka, died in the early hours of Monday, apparently by suicide. Police in Papua New Guinea confirmed details of the death, but it went unremarked upon by the Australian government, which retains it is a matter for PNG.

The case is unpleasant and murky, and highlights several important points of dispute about the plight of refugees on Manus Island and what they face when Australia leaves the island at the end of this month.

Rajendran, who experienced mental illness, was charged with raping a minor earlier this year in the township of Lorengau. He was released on bail and awaited trial, but it was a charge likely to rule him out of consideration for resettlement in the US.

The rape charge was also at the centre of escalating unrest between townsfolk and the asylum seekers on Manus Island. In part, it is what Dutton referred to in April when he said there was an "elevated mood" on the island and controversially suggested a riot at the processing centre was linked to community fears about the safety of a five-year-old boy.

"There was a ramping up of the tension on the ground. We have seen allegations and charges in relation to a number of sexual assaults," Dutton said.

From the refugees' point of view, the Rajendran case feeds into fears for their own safety in the Lorengau community. For months, PNG authorities have tried to coerce men out of the regional process centre - which is due to close by October 31 - and into the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre. Many refugees have refused to move, preferring the safety of the RPC, which is away from the township on a Navy base.

On Friday night, asylum seekers received another notice about the impending shutdown. Documents shown to Fairfax Media reveal another form of accommodation, called the West Lorengau Haus, has been made available for refugees. Those who move there will be housed in dorms and receive "a living allowance to cover food, clothing and some personal expenses".

According to Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee and journalist on Manus, PNG authorities plan to accommodate 241 people at the Haus, as well as 232 people at the ELRTC and 148 rejected asylum seekers at a location called Hillside House. The transfers are to occur before October 27.

Boochani said the refugees were "determined to resist" the move to Lorengau "because it is not a safe place for them". "There will definitely be more conflict between refugees and local people if the government presses ahead with this plan," he said.

Rajendran's death also speaks volumes about the adequacy of health services on the island. According to PNG police, he first attempted suicide on a Friday night and was admitted to Lorengau Hospital. He was found hanging in the hospital on Monday while notionally under its care.

It's a danger that doctors on the island are aware of. "I've said to them, 'this is going to happen, more of this will happen'," one doctor, who works for contractor International Health and Medical Services, told a refugee this week. "They're not telling you what's happening, so people get a build-up of despair."

Labor has requested a briefing from Dutton about the circumstances leading up to Rajendran's death. Shadow immigration minister Shayne Neumann offered his condolences to the man's family and friends, and said it would be inappropriate to comment further.

The inadequacy of the PNG health system is what awaits the sick men on Manus once IHMS leaves on October 31. Dutton has said arrangements will be announced in due course, while the aforementioned doctor promised his patient "a full medical handover to whoever takes over".

But, he joked, "it's entirely possible that I'll just be wearing a different-coloured shirt and working for a different company".

This story Sixth Manus Island death signals a system in chaos as Australian exit looms first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.