Australia shutters Papua New Guinea detention center | News | DW | 31.10.2017
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Australia shutters Papua New Guinea detention center

Around 600 asylum seekers have refused to leave the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea, defying attempts by the Australian government to close the facility. Power and water supplies have been cut off.

Hundreds of asylum seekers barricaded inside the controversial Manus Island center were without electricity and drinking water on Wednesday, as the Australian government urged them to leave. 

The center was declared closed on Tuesday following the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court's ruling last year that the detention of asylum seekers there was unconstitutional.

Some 600 men residing at the facility have refused to leave, saying the alternative shelters provided are less safe and may leave them open to attacks from locals.

The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition said the removal of generators overnight meant the center was without power and toilets operating on electrical pumps weren't working.

"They took generators this morning. There is not power in whole centre. The toilets do not work. All refugees woke up again in fear," Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist held there, wrote on Twitter.

Last-ditch appeal

The Coalition, a group of lawyers representing the remaining asylum seekers, has applied for a last-minute injunction to prevent the facility from being shuttered and allow the men to be relocated to a third country. A ruling is expected on Wednesday.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said there was no reason for asylum seekers to stay at the center because they have access to temporary residences nearby.

"All have been informed for a considerable period of time that there is safe and secure alternate accommodation where health and other services will be maintained," Dutton told Reuters news agency in an emailed statement.

Read more:US will honor 'dumb' Australia refugee deal

'Humanitarian emergency'

Papua New Guinean authorities have said that while they will not forcefully remove anyone, those remaining at the center after its transfer to the defense forces on Wednesday would be considered to be trespassing on a military base.

They have deployed extra police to the town of Lorengau where alternative housing for the asylum seekers is located, but angry locals have threatened to blockade them. The relocation is only a temporary measure while the United States vets asylum seekers it is considering accepting under a refugee swap deal. 

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Nick McKim, a Greens lawmaker in Australia's senate who has visited Manus Island, urged authorities to keep the facility open.

"This is a humanitarian emergency. Drinking water has been cut off. There is no food apart from what the refugees have been able to put aside in the last few days," McKim told Australian broadcaster Sky News.

'The only humane thing'

The facility formed an integral part of Australia's expensive offshore detention program known as "Sovereign Borders."

Under the country's hardline border security policy, asylum seekers attempting to reach Australian shores by boat are sent to detention centers at Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru in the South Pacific.

The UN and human rights organizations have criticized the harsh treatment asylum seekers experience when they arrive at these offshore processing centers.

Read more: Australia moves towards lifetime entrance ban on offshore refugees

Last week, Amnesty International's Director of Global Issues, Audrey Gaughran, called on the government to "accept its responsibility to protect the human rights" of those seeking refuge under its jurisdiction.

"Shuttling refugees from one center to another is simply papering over the cracks in an abusive system," Gaughran said. "Authorities in Australia should do the only humane thing and immediately bring the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island to safety in Australia."

Most of the detainees on Manus Island come from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria.

nm/ (AP, dpa, Reuters)

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