PNG de­mands clar­ity from Aust on ‘tense’ Pa­cific camp

The Nation - - WORLD -

REFUGEE ADVOCATESwarned of an “ex­tremely tense” sit­u­a­tion at a Pa­pua New Guinea asy­lum-seeker camp yes­ter­day ahead of its clo­sure, as Port Moresby de­manded clar­ity from Aus­tralia on its plans for what hap­pens next.

The Manus Is­land de­ten­tion cen­tre, which houses around 800 peo­ple, is due to be shut to­day af­ter PNG’s Supreme Court ruled last year that hold­ing peo­ple there was un­con­sti­tu­tional.

Water and power will be cut off at the cen­tre, one of two Pa­cific camps where asy­lum seek­ers who try to en­ter Aus­tralia by boat are sent for pro­cess­ing un­der Can­berra’s harsh im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.

There are fears of a flash­point sit­u­a­tion if the men are forcibly moved to tem­po­rary tran­sit fa­cil­i­ties while their fu­ture is de­cided.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion as “ex­tremely tense” and stressed that all se­cu­rity work­ers “must abide by in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions and re­frain from ex­ces­sive use of force”.

“The Aus­tralian and Pa­pua New Guinean gov­ern­ments must take all nec­es­sary steps to pre­vent vi­o­lence against refugees from the com­mu­nity and en­sure their safety,” Amnesty Pa­cific re­searcher Kate Schuetze added.

PNG po­lice com­mis­sioner Gari Baki said last week that there was a “small dis­grun­tled fac­tion among the refugees” and pleaded with lo­cals not to make the trans­fers dif­fi­cult.

Asy­lum seek­ers on Manus are barred from set­tling in Aus­tralia even if they are found to be gen­uine refugees.

In­stead, they have been given the op­tion of mov­ing to the other cen­tre on the is­land of Nauru, re­turn­ing to their home­land, set­tling in a third coun­try like Cam­bo­dia, or mak­ing a life in Pa­pua New Guinea.

While the United States has ac­cepted a hand­ful of them un­der a deal struck with for­mer pres­i­dent Barack Obama, Can­berra has had lit­tle suc­cess re­lo­cat­ing those on Manus and Nauru any­where else.

Many have voiced fears for their safety if they chose to stay on Pa­pua New Guinea amid re­ports they would not be wel­comed in lo­cal neigh­bour­hoods.

PNG’s Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Petrus Thomas said in a state­ment there were un­re­solved is­sues about what hap­pens to those who do not want to set­tle in PNG, and those who refuse to re­turn home.

“PNG has no obli­ga­tion un­der the cur­rent ar­range­ment to deal with these two co­horts,” he said.

“They re­main the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Aus­tralia to pur­sue third-coun­try op­tions and li­aise with re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments of the non-refugees for their vol­un­tary or in­vol­un­tary re­turn.

“There has to be a clear un­der­stand­ing of what Aus­tralia will con­tinue to do and sup­port PNG in the next few months to deal with the re­main­ing caseload,” he added.

Thomas said of those trans­ferred to Manus un­der Aus­tralia’s tough poli­cies, nearly 600 had re­turned home vol­un­tar­ily, seven were de­ported and five had died – leav­ing 610 gen­uine refugees and 201 non-refugees on the is­land.

This file photo ob­tained from the Refugee Ac­tion Coali­tion shows Aus­tralia’s re­gional pro­cess­ing cen­tre on PNG’s Manus Is­land.

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