PNG warns it will use force to empty refugee camp
SYDNEY: Refugees holed up in a closed Australian detention camp on Papua New Guinea were warned yesterday authorities will move in, using force if necessary, if they do not leave by the weekend.
The remote facility on Manus Island — one of two offshore centres that holds asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat — was closed more than a week ago after the PNG Supreme Court ruled last year it was unconstitutional.
But some 600 men have refused to move to transition centres, saying they fear locals there would be hostile.
Water, power and food supplies have been cut with a Papua New Guinea court on Tuesday rejecting one refugee’s application to have them restored.
With conditions deteriorating, PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said the holdouts must move to the new accommodation.
“The Manus centre was established for the sole reason of processing asylum claims. Now all claims have been processed and the centre has closed,” he said.
“Given the Supreme Court’s decision, the government has no choice but to intervene for the well- being of both the refugees and non-refugees.”
He warned that ‘appropriate means’ would be used to ‘apprehend individuals who are causing unnecessary anxiety and violence’.
“Their actions are now heading towards a law-and-order situation, as well as a hygiene and sanitation problem, and it will be dealt with as such, whether they are genuine refugees or not.” A notice put up at the camp yesterday warned ‘force may be used to relocate those who refuse to move voluntarily’ by Saturday.
Iranian refugee Behrouz
The Manus centre was established for the sole reason of processing asylum claims. Now all claims have been processed and the centre has closed. Given the Supreme Court’s decision, the government has no choice but to intervene for the well-being of both the refugees and nonrefugees. Peter O’Neill, PNG Prime Minister
Boochani, who has been acting as a spokesman for the asylum- seekers, said police and immigration officials entered the camp to spread the message.
“The refugees are extremely scared by immigration threat but still saying we will not leave this prison camp for another prison camp,” he tweeted.
Canberra says its tough immigration policy against boat people dissuades would- be migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing to Australia and has therefore prevented hundreds of deaths at sea.
However, it has been widely criticised by the United Nations and human rights advocates.
Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States.
But so far just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to the United States in September, under a deal struck with former US president Barack Obama and bitterly criticised by his successor Donald Trump.
Amnesty International warned that ‘any use of force in this highly charged environment is likely to lead to serious injury or loss of life’, calling for aid to be allowed into the camp.
“It is the Australian and PNG governments who have left the men without food, clean water, proper sanitation or electricity,” said Amnesty’s Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze.
“They cannot, having created the situation, now compound it by sending in security forces to force the refugees to move.” — AFP
Contractors dismantling fences at the Australian detention centre on Manus Island in Paupa New Guinea. — AFP photo