Papua New Guinea (PNG) demanded that Canberra clarify what it will do with hundreds of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island after the Australian-run immigration detention center there is closed on Tuesday.
More than 600 refugees have been asked to relocate from the camp - which was slated for closure after PNG's Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional last year - to temporary residential facilities in the island's main town of Lorengau. But the refugees, who have been held since 2014, have refused to move and say they are afraid of being attacked by locals.
Minister for Immigration and Border Security Petrus Thomas said Australia was responsible for people found not to be refugees, and for refugees who are refusing to settle in PNG.
"PNG has no obligation under the current arrangement to deal with these two cohorts and they remain the responsibility of Australia to pursue third country options and liaise with respective governments of the non-refugees for their voluntary or involuntary return," Thomas said in a statement yesterday.
The detention center was set up by the Australian government to hold asylum-seekers trying to enter the country by boat, for offshore processing. The practice has been criticized by the United Nations and rights groups.
According to the PNG government, 1,550 asylum seekers have been transferred to Papua New Guinea by Australian immigration authorities. Some 610 were determined to be refugees and 201 were non-refugees, while 598 have since returned voluntarily. Seven non-refugees have been deported and five have died on Manus.
The current arrangement between Australia and PNG covers the transfer, processing and resettlement of refugees that wish to settle in PNG, Thomas said. PNG has offered refugees the option of resettlement, but will not force those who do not wish to settle in the country, he said. He also warned about the reduction of health services, provided by the Australian government, for refugees and non-refugees on Manus.
Food and drinking water at the detention center were cut on Sunday and electricity is due to be cut off on Tuesday. Most of the refugees are from Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The living conditions in the camp, as well as reports of high rates of mental illness and incidents of self-harm among the asylum seekers, have been condemned by the United Nations, rights groups and an Australian parliamentary inquiry.