Authorities prepare to forcibly remove Manus detainees
Refugees and asylum seekers protesting inside the now-closed regional processing facility on Manus Island, which they refuse to leave.Almost 600 men still holed up in the Manus Island detention centre are bracing for confrontation after being given two days to relocate to new accommodation and Papua New Guinean authorities warning them “force may be used” if they do not leave voluntarily.
A notice issued at the now-decommissioned centre on Thursday said the facility was returning to PNG defence force control and declared the detainees had no legal justification to stay following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday they should move to the new “transit centres”.
“If necessary, force may be used to relocate those who refuse to move voluntarily for your own sake,” the notice from PNG’s Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority said.
“Demolition of fences will commence today and your security and safety here is not guaranteed…This land will revert to [defence force control] and if you still remain here after demolition of the fences, you will be deemed to be unlawfully on a military base and will face eviction or arrest and prosecution.”
Human rights advocates warned a confrontation would put lives at risk and called for services to be restored at the detention centre.
“Any use of force in this highly charged environment is likely to lead to serious injury or loss of life,” Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher Kate Scheutze, who recently visited the island, said.
“There is a clear, alternative course of action. Services must be restored until a safe and dignified solution to the situation is agreed, one that respect the rights of the refugees.”
The notice from the PNG government said a health inspector had examined the site on Monday and was concerned about the health effects on the men of living among “overflowing sewerage, heaps of rubbish, no clean running water, no electricity and no food”.
“He has instructed that this place be evacuated immediately,” the notice said, emphasising “it is NOT our desire to see anyone of you get evicted by force”.
The men have been refusing to leave the facility since its closure on October 31. The stand-off has been labelled an “unfolding humanitarian emergency” by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
A dispute over the standard of new facilities has persisted. While the n and PNG governments insist they are ready for an influx of 600 people, refugee advocates and UN refugee agency UNHCR have disputed this.
The protesting men – the vast majority of whom have refugee status – have cited fears for their safety closer to the island’s main town of Lorengau, and their desperation for permanent resettlement in a third country.
Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani told Fairfax Media the use of force was “completely unacceptable”.
“We are not doing anything wrong, we are only resisting peacefully. We are asking again for freedom in a safe third country,” he said from inside the centre.
Lawyers representing Boochani have lodged an appeal with the PNG Supreme Court against its rejection this week of an application to restore operations at the compound.
n barrister Greg Barns, advising the legal team, said the court’s decision was made using inadequate information about the standard of the new facilities and failed to acknowledge Boochani’s “very real” fear of violence if moved to Lorengau.
Mr Barns also said the PNG government’s threats “show a complete contempt for the rule of law and amount to a very serious interference with the justice process” as the court considers an appeal.
On Thursday, Manus detainees were told all basic services were up and running at the new facilities and “security is available at both locations to ensure your safety is guaranteed” with a “regular police presence”.
UNHCR spokeswoman Catherine Stubberfield said on Wednesday that substantive parts of the new accommodation were “still not ready” and Elaine Pearson, director of Human Rights Watch, said detainees had been “repeatedly robbed and assaulted” in Lorengau.
Two of the facilities have been established for those who have been granted refugee status, while the third is for the approximately 200 men who have not.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill insisted on Wednesday that the original centre would not be reopened and said the government had to intervene for the wellbeing of detainees.
“Those involved in disruption have been identified and appropriate means will be used to apprehend individuals who are causing unnecessary anxiety and violence,” Mr O’Neill said in a statement.
n Immigration Minister Peter Dutton also insisted the Turnbull government “won’t be backing down”. The notice issued to Manus detainees today. Two days to leave voluntarily or “force may be used”. Warns fences are being demolished today. #Manuspic.twitter成都楼凤/Ln0IMRqyin??? Fergus Hunter (@fergushunter) November 9, 2017