Dozens leave closed Australia refugee camp in PNG

SYDNEY (AFP) – Dozens of refugees have left a shuttered Australian camp in Papua New Guinea but hundreds more are refusing to move, detainees said yesterday, as New Zealand’s leader repeated an offer to resettle some of them.

Australia sends asylum-seekers who try to reach the country by boat to two Pacific camps on PNG’s Manus Island or Nauru for processing under a tough immigration policy.

Around 600 men refused to leave the Manus detention centre after it was closed on October 31 following a PNG Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional, citing fears for their safety outside.

While some have moved to three transition centres on Manus, 423 remain holed up in the camp despite no water and electricity and limited food supplies, Kurdish-Iranian detainee and journalist Behrouz Boochani told AFP yesterday.

Boochani said the men were “struggling with starvation” and rationing the little food they were allowed to bring in to the camp.

“The people are saying that we are determined to stay and they feel if (they) leave the prison camp and go to another prison camp (they) will lose everything and their lives,” he added.

Australian and PNG authorities insist all three transition centres built to house the refugees provide basic services including food and water.

File photo shows housing of asylum seekers protesting the possible closure of their detention centre, on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea
File photo shows refugees and asylum seekers holding up banners during a protest at the Manus Island immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea. – PHOTOS: AP

But Boochani said those who moved there have complained of harsh conditions.

The refugee has also filed for leave to appeal a PNG Supreme Court ruling Tuesday against restoring basic services to the camp, with the case to be heard in court today.

PNG authorities have warned the refugees they had up to this weekend to go to the new locations or face being forcibly removed.

The deadline to move came as New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern repeated her offer to take 150 refugees from Manus and Nauru.

Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull snubbed Ardern’s offer when she raised it in bilateral meetings in Sydney a week ago.

She told reporters on the sidelines of the APEC meetings in Vietnam Saturday she would have a “substantive” conversation with Turnbull at the upcoming East Asian Summit in the Philippines.

“I see the human face of this and I see the need and the role New Zealand needs to play. 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.

“It continues to be the easiest option is to go through Australia given the screening that’s already occurred of those refugees… I’m interested in the fastest route.”

Canberra has struggled to transfer refugees from Manus, who are barred from resettling in Australia, to third countries including the United States.

So far, just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to America in September.

Canberra’s offshore processing policy has been criticised by the United Nations and rights groups as essentially placing refugees in indefinite detention on remote Pacific islands.