Papua New Guinea police have moved in on the shuttered Australian-run Manus detention camp in an attempt to force hundreds of asylum seekers occupying it to leave. The camp long symbolized Canberra's strict asylum laws.
- Authorities in Papua New Guinea are removing more than 300 asylum seekers from a squalid immigration camp on Manus island to another location
- Australia has paid PNG and the nearby island of Nauru to hold refugees as part of its controversial immigration policy
- Rights groups and the UN have warned of violence and a humanitarian crisis
- Asylum seekers have refused to leave for three weeks
Papua New Guinea authorities moved to empty a decommissioned Australian-run immigration detention center, drawing criticism from rights groups and the UN over heavy-handed tactics and a potential humanitarian crisis.
Police Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas said 50 police and immigration officials entered the camp on Thursday morning and persuaded 35 of the 378 men there to go to alternative accommodation in the nearby town of Lorengau.
But asylum seekers reported police were using force to remove them from the Manus island camp, where authorities stopped providing water, electricity and food supplies nearly three weeks ago.
Other detainees said that dozens of men have been arrested, including Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boocahni, who is one of the most vocal advocates for those inside the camp.
Tweeting before his reported arrest, Boocahni said police were destroying their belongings, beds, water supplies and stocks of food.
Other detainees reported similar heavy-handed tactics.
PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki said earlier this week that no force would be used.
How did it come to this?
The detainees are held under Australia's strict "sovereign borders" immigration policy, under which the country refuses to allow asylum seekers attempting to enter by boat to reach its shores.
Last year, PNG's Supreme Court ruled the Manus camp illegal and asked the Australian government to close it.
About 400 asylum-seekers, men mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, barricaded themselves into the camp on October 31 to protest their removal.
Many Manus occupants have said they fear for their safety if moved to other transit centers on the island amid opposition from locals.
Instead of being left in limbo at another detention facility, they want to be permanently settled in Australia or another country.
What is the situation in the center?
The inmates' medicines ran out last week, their health is suffering in the hot and humid weather and they have started digging wells inside the center to get water.
"The situation on the ground is very serious and deteriorating day by day," said Nai Jit Lam, a regional representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
"Australia must continue to take responsibility and play an active role in achieving solutions," Lam said.
The UN has long criticized the living conditions on Australia's offshore migrant detention centers.
What is the Australian government's stance?
Australia's refugee policy has prompted protests at home for better conditions and rights for asylum seekers. However, the government argues it deters people smugglers and prevents deaths at sea.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sydney radio station 2GB that a police operation was under way to move the asylum seekers to a new $10 million (€8.7 million) facility in PNG.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull shrugged off asylum seekers' fears, accusing them of trying to pressure Australia to accept them.
"They think that ... in some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia. Well, we will not be pressured. We will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers," Turnbull told reporters.
"People on Manus should go to the alternative places of safety with all the facilities they need, they should do so peacefully and they should do so in accordance with the legal directions of Papua New Guinea," he added.
Under a deal struck between the Obama administration and Australia, the United States agreed to take up to 1,250 of the several thousand refugees on Manus island and nearby Nauru. US President Donald Trump has decided to honor the US commitment despite his opposition to immigration.
But slow processing of asylum applications has meant that so far only 54 asylum seekers have been accepted by the United States.
New Zealand has also offered to take some of the men.
cw/rt (Reuters, dpa, AFP)