The Australian-run immigration centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is in the process of being closed. However the 600 male alleged refugees and asylum seekers housed in the centre are refusing to leave, this is being encouraged by refugee advocates back in Australia. This may lead to confrontation with PNG authorities.
The men at Manus claim they will become victims of violence once they leave the centre because locals don’t want them on the island. Other than the 551 refugees, the centre houses 167 asylum seekers whose applications were declined by the Australian government.
The immigration centre is located at the Lombrum Naval Base. It was opened in 2001 as part of former Prime Minister John Howard’s initiative called the “Pacific Solution” which was intended to bring in asylum seekers in offshore facilities. In 2008, it was closed by the Labor government as part of their overall dismantling of Australia’s successful border security arrangements to that point.
As the number of refugee arrivals increased, the Labor government had no choice but to reopen the facility in 2012. By 2013, there were a total of 20,500 refugees.
In April 2016, the Supreme Court of PNG came out with a finding that the refugees were deprived of their personal liberty. The ruling led to having the centre gates opened to allow the refugees to come and go as they pleased.
A report prepared by the international activist group Human Rights Watch claimed that refugees had been frequently assaulted and robbed by locals; some intoxicated, who were armed with sticks, rocks, knives and screwdrivers. This as would expect is disputed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton “The constant claims of Illegal Maritime arrivals and (refugee) advocates about their situation in Manus are nothing more than subterfuge”.
Attacks by international bodies on Australia’s border policies are nothing new with a United Nations report just this week claiming our policy of boat-turnbacks violate international law (if it is even a real thing) and actually put lives at risk. This is despite the previous open door policy of the Labor government leading to over 1,000 drownings at sea.
Lawyers representing the refugees are set to file an injunction in the PNG Supreme Court on November 1 to stop the closure of the centre because “there is an absence of alternatives for these men”. Greens Senator Nick McKim has also traveled to the centre to visit the men.
The Australian government has given the refugees more than enough time to vacate the facility as Peter Dutton reinforced today “The Illegal Martime Arrivals who are refusing to leave the RPC have been aware since May this year that the PNG authorities would close the RPC today”.
While services were gradually cut to get them to leave, Immigration and Border Security Secretary Michael Pezzullo said the government provided adequate accommodations in two other alternative locations: the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre or the West Lorengau House.
These locations are both funded by the Australian government at a cost of AUS$ 250 Million per year. For asylum seekers, a third location called Hillside House is an option.
New Zealand had offered to take in 150 of these asylum seekers but it was refused by the Australian government because it could only revive the industry of people-smuggling.
The refusal of these men to leave with the assistance of refugee advocates is just their latest attempt to undermine Australia’s strong border security which was re-instated with the election of Abbott Government in 2013.
However the government knows that the current policy of not letting asylum seekers come by boat settle in Australia is strongly supported by the Australian community at large, and any sign of weakness from the government would soon have Australian engulfed in a similar migrant crisis than Europe has been facing.
The government’s determination in closing the Manus Island Centre follows their recent policy decision to cut off income and housing support to asylum seekers who had parked themselves in Australia while seeking medical treatment.
Australians won’t be fooled by the untruths peddled by these men and their advocates and will support the federal government finishing off cleaning up the previous Labor government’s mess in this policy area and continue to save the taxpayer money in the area of border security.