PNG pressures refugees to leave Australian camp

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SYDNEY – Papua New Guinea officials deployed police vehicles and buses around a shuttered Australian refugee camp Monday as a deadline passed for some 400 detainees to move from the controversial centre.

Hundreds of men have refused to leave the Manus Island camp in an increasingly tense stand-off with authorities since Australia declared the facility closed on October 31 and shut off electricity and water.

Refugees said police filled in wells and drilled holes in storage tanks that they had been using to hold drinking water, as part of the effort to force them out on Monday.

Inmates sent out photos showing a line of buses and police vehicles outside the camp, built on a former PNG naval base, a day after Immigration Minister Petrus Thomas gave them 24 hours to get out.

More than 100 of the refugees have left for three “transition” centres on Manus since it was officially closed.

The remaining men, who have been held on Manus for more than four years, insist they should be resettled in third countries and not simply transferred to another detention camp in PNG.

“We are still refusing to leave this prison camp for another prison camp,” tweeted Behrooz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian refugee and journalist.

Thomas told the detainees in a statement Sunday that they needed to leave by Monday, but he stopped short of saying they would be moved forcibly.

Under its harsh immigration policy, Australia has been sending asylum-seekers who try to reach the country by boat to Manus or a second camp for families on the Pacific island of Nauru.

The PNG Supreme Court recently declared the Manus camp unconstitutional, forcing Australia to close the site. Australian and PNG authorities insist the three transition centres built to house the refugees provide basic services including food and water.

But Boochani told AFP on Sunday that men who had moved to the centres had complained of harsh conditions.

Meanwhile New Zealand’s new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, was hoping to convince her Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, to accept her offer to take 150 refugees from Manus and Nauru.

Turnbull snubbed the offer when she raised it in bilateral meetings in Sydney a week ago. But Ardern said she would press the issue in a “substantive” talk with Turnbull on the sidelines of this week’s East Asia Summit in the Philippines.

“I think it’s clear that we don’t see what’s happening there as acceptable, that’s why the offer’s there,” she said.

Canberra has struggled to transfer refugees from Manus and Nauru, with just 54 accepted so far by the United States under a deal reached with former president Barack Obama. His successor, Donald Trump, has called the deal “dumb”.

Australia’s offshore processing policy has been criticised by the United Nations and rights groups as essentially placing refugees in indefinite detention.

But the government says it has stopped deaths at sea after a spate of drownings.

AFP

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