Manus Island: Police enter former Australia-run asylum centre

Police in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have entered a former Australian-run detention centre in a bid to get asylum seekers who remain there to leave.

Hundreds of men have refused to leave the Manus Island centre since it was shut down on 31 October, citing fears for their safety.

On Thursday, men inside the camp said that PNG police had given them a one-hour deadline to leave. One refugee, a journalist, was reportedly arrested.

Australia said it was a PNG operation.

Under a controversial policy, Australia has detained asylum seekers who arrive by boat in camps on Manus Island and Nauru, a small Pacific nation.

Australia shut down the Manus Island centre after a PNG court ruled it was unconstitutional, urging asylum seekers to move to transit centres elsewhere on the island.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his nation would “not be pressured” into accepting the men, reiterating a long-held policy that such a move would encourage human trafficking.

“They should obey the law and the lawful authorities of Papua New Guinea,” Mr Turnbull said.

One refugee, Abdul Aziz Adam, said about 420 asylum seekers were in the centre early on Thursday. PNG police later told Australia’s ABC that about 35 men had left voluntarily.

The Sudanese refugee told the BBC a large number of police officers had entered the compound.

“They had a really big microphone in their hands and started telling people ‘you have to move’. They are taking all the phones away, destroying all the rooms and belongings and everything,” he said.

Another refugee, Iranian reporter Behrouz Boochani, was arrested, according to Australian media outlets and journalism union Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA).

The MEAA called the arrest of Mr Boochani, a prominent voice within the centre, an “egregious attack on press freedom”. A video and a separate photo appeared to show him being led away by officers.

The asylum seekers have refused to leave because of fears they will be attacked in the local community. Rights groups say that asylum seekers have been attacked in the past.

This is the most direct action so far by the PNG authorities, but it doesn’t mean the stand-off is ending.

In the last three weeks deadlines have come and gone, water supplies have been repeatedly disrupted, food has dwindled, and parts of the centre have been dismantled.

With each step the resolve of the men who want to remain there seems only to have increased.

They are anxious to try and keep the spotlight on Manus Island, and are likely to resist removal for as long as physically possible.

Earlier, Mr Boochani tweeted that an Australian police officer appeared to be “guiding” some local officers. This was denied by Australian Federal Police, who said they had no involvement in the operation.

Australia has repeatedly said that alternative accommodation for the asylum seekers is ready.

However, the UN’s refugee agency said on Tuesday that housing remained “under construction”, was inadequately secured, and lacked “the most basic services” such as a medical care.

“We were there and saw for ourselves that they are trying to complete the site as quickly as possible,” said deputy regional representative Nai Jit Lam.

The UN has said a majority of the men have refugee status.

 

  

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