Stalemate as refugees dig in at PNG camp
SOME 400 refugees rebuffed continued efforts by Papua New Guinea authorities to convince them to move from a shuttered Australian detention camp yesterday as the standoff over their future drags into a third week.
The confrontation has drawn global attention to Canberra’s tough immigration policy, under which asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are sent to remote Pacific camps on PNG’s Manus Island and the island nation of Nauru.
Most of the 600 refugees detained at the camp refused to leave when Australia officially closed it on October 31 after the PNG Supreme Court ruled the site unconstitutional, citing fears for their safety outside.
They are barred from resettling in Australia and Canberra has struggled to transfer them to third countries.
Kurdish-Iranian detainee and journalist Behrouz Boochani said yesterday the detainees were going to dig another well, a day after police moved in to puncture or remove tanks holding the refugees’ remaining supplies of drinking water.
“It’s the moment to accept failure & let us go to a 3rd country,” Boochani, who has acted as a spokesman for the refugees, added in a tweet yesterday.
Police, who have so far complied with orders from higher authorities not to resort to force to remove the men, used loudspeakers to appeal to the detainees to move on Monday.
Chief Inspector David Yapu issued a statement on Monday indicating growing impatience at the stalemate, after the refugees ignored several deadlines for the camp to be cleared.
“Those refugees were sitting in their compounds and staring at us without any signs of moving out from the centre,” the Manus provincial police commander said in the statement.
“Apparently my message went through deaf ears and into the brick wall.”
PNG police said they have managed to get about 180 men to voluntarily relocate to three nearby transition centres.
Boochani said those who agreed to move to those new sites have complained about the harsh conditions there.
Canberra has been hopeful that up to 1,250 refugees on Manus and Nauru could be transferred to the United States under a resettlement deal struck last year.
But so far, just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to America in September.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also snubbed an offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees, citing fears it would restart the people-smuggling trade.