Over 600 migrants refuse to leave Australian detention center on Manus Island

Published 31.10.2017 12:55
Asylum seekers protest the possible closure of their detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea on Oct. 31, 2017 (AP Photo)
Asylum seekers protest the possible closure of their detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea on Oct. 31, 2017 (AP Photo)

Over 600 migrants held at Papua New Guinea's Manus Island have refused to leave and have launched legal action against Tuesday's closing of the center.

Papua New Guinea authorities said they would cut off water, electricity and food supplies to the center inside the Lombrun Navy Base at 5 p.m. Tuesday, a date set by the country's supreme court after detention there was ruled illegal and unconstitutional.

The 606 men — diverted by Australian authorities to Manus after attempting to reach Australia by boat — have refused to comply with an order to relocate to three nearby facilities because they say the alternatives are less secure and they fear for their safety amid threats of violence from locals.

Lawyers for the asylum seekers sought a court injunction Tuesday to keep the facility open, as fears mounted of violence amid reports of looting and rock-throwing by local residents.

An hour after the deadline, however, the utilities had not been cut off, according to refugee advocates.

In absence of security personnel, locals have begun looting the center and throwing rocks at detainees.

The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) spokesperson Ian Rintoul said it would "be a long night" for the detainees, who were "very worried they'll be attacked during the night."

He said that with detainees likely to run out of drinking water before long, authorities on Manus "could well be deciding they'll starve the people out over a few days rather than using the police."

Media reports said some 100 locals rallied in the nearby town of Lorengau on Tuesday morning, calling for the refugees to be sent to Australia and not brought into their community. By contrast, some locals had said they would support the detainees if power and water were cut off, Rintoul said.

Lawyers acting for the RAC warned of a "catastrophic outcome" if the detainees were evicted.

"We're hopeful of being able to raise the immediate issues of the abuse of human rights on Manus Island," said Rintoul, who said he hopes for an urgent hearing at Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court on Wednesday morning.

Papua New Guinea officials have said the facility will be returned to defense forces Wednesday and anyone remaining would be considered to be trespassing on a military base.

Papua New Guinea has warned Australia that after the closure it will take no responsibility for people who refused to resettle. It says Australia is responsible for finding third-country options for refugees and for returning non-refugees to their home countries.

However, the Australian immigration department insisted the closure of the center and management of refugees and non-refugees was a "matter for Papua New Guinea."

For four years, Australia has paid Papua New Guinea, its nearest neighbor, and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru to house asylum seekers who attempt to reach the Australian coast by boat. The United States has resettled 54 of them in recent weeks and is considering taking almost 1,200 more.

Australia will not settle any refugees who try to arrive by boat — a policy that the government says dissuades asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous ocean crossing from Indonesia. Australia has also prevented boats from reaching Australia since July 2014 by using the Australian navy to turn boats back.

Six detainees have died on Manus Island, including one who was murdered, since the offshore detention center was opened in 2012.

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