PNG ups pres­sure on asy­lum seek­ers to leave camp

The Phnom Penh Post - - WORLD -

PA­PUA New Guinea of­fi­cials de­ployed po­lice ve­hi­cles and buses around a shut­tered Aus­tralian refugee camp yes­ter­day as a dead­line passed for some 400 de­tainees to move from the cen­tre.

Hun­dreds of men have re­fused to leave the Manus Is­land camp in an in­creas­ingly tense stand-off with au­thor­i­ties since Aus­tralia de­clared the fa­cil­ity closed on Oc­to­ber 31 and shut off elec­tric­ity and wa­ter.

Refugees said po­lice filled in wells and drilled holes in stor­age tanks that they had been us­ing to hold drink­ing wa­ter, as part of the ef­fort to force them out yes­ter­day. In­mates sent out pho­tos show­ing a line of buses and po­lice ve­hi­cles out­side the camp, built on a for­mer PNG naval base, a day af­ter Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Petrus Thomas gave them 24 hours to get out.

More than 100 of the refugees have left for three “tran­si­tion” cen­tres on Manus since it was of­fi­cially closed. The re­main­ing men, who have been held on Manus for more than four years, in­sist they should be re­set­tled in third coun­tries and not sim­ply trans­ferred to an­other de­ten­tion camp in PNG.

“We are still re­fus­ing to leave this prison camp for an­other prison camp,” tweeted Behrooz Boochani, a Kur­dishIra­nian refugee and jour­nal­ist.

Thomas told the de­tainees in a state­ment Sun­day that they needed to leave by yes­ter­day, but he stopped short of say­ing they would be moved forcibly.

Un­der its harsh im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, Aus­tralia has been send­ing asy­lum seek­ers who try to reach the coun­try by boat to Manus or a sec­ond camp for fam­i­lies on the Pa­cific is­land of Nauru.

The PNG Supreme Court re­cently de­clared the Manus camp un­con­sti­tu­tional, forc­ing Aus­tralia to close it.

Aus­tralian and PNG au­thor­i­ties in­sist the three tran­si­tion cen­tres built to house the refugees pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices in­clud­ing food and wa­ter.

But Boochani said on Sun­day that men who had moved to the cen­tres had com­plained of harsh con­di­tions.

Mean­while New Zealand’s new prime min­is­ter, Jacinda Ardern, was hop­ing to con­vince her Aus­tralian coun­ter­part, Mal­colm Turn­bull, to ac­cept her of­fer to take 150 refugees from Manus and Nauru. Turn­bull snubbed the of­fer when she raised it in bi­lat­eral meet­ings in Syd­ney a week ago.

But Ardern said she would press the is­sue in a “sub­stan­tive” talk with Turn­bull on the side­lines of this week’s East Asia Sum­mit in the Philip­pines.

“I think it’s clear that we don’t see what’s hap­pen­ing there as ac­cept­able, that’s why the of­fer’s there,” she said.

Can­berra has strug­gled to trans­fer refugees from Manus and Nauru, with just 54 ac­cepted so far by the United States un­der a deal reached with for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama. Aus­tralia’s off­shore pro­cess­ing pol­icy has been crit­i­cised by the United Na­tions and rights groups as es­sen­tially plac­ing refugees in in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion. But the gov­ern­ment says it has stopped deaths at sea af­ter a spate of drown­ings.

REFUGEE AC­TION COALI­TION/AFP

Refugees walk around at the Aus­tralian de­ten­tion cen­tre on Manus Is­land in Pa­pua New Guinea yes­ter­day.

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