PNG warns it will use force to empty Australia refugee camp
With water, power and food supplies cut off and conditions deteriorating, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill demanded the men move to new centres
Refugees holed up in a closed Australian detention camp on Papua New Guinea were warned on Thursday authorities would move in and use 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 about 600 men have refused to move to transition centres, saying they fear locals there will be hostile.
With water, power and food supplies cut off and conditions deteriorating, PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill demanded the men move to the new centres.
“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 on Thursday warned “force may be used to relocate those who refuse to move voluntarily” by Saturday.
Iranian refugee Behrouz 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 boatpeople dissuades would-be migrants from attempting the dangerous crossing to Australia and has 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 US 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.”