SYDNEY, Australia — As Australia moved to close a detention centre for asylum seekers it won’t allow on its shores, Papua New Guinea’s government warned the 600 men who want to stay at the Manus Island facility they may be removed if they stay beyond a Tuesday deadline.
Food and utilities were set to be shut off under a closure agreement between Australia and Papua New Guinea, but an application lawyer Ben Lomai is expected to file Tuesday would seek to ensure utilities will still be provided.
An Australian lawyer on the case, Greg Barns, says the claim seeks to ensure detainees “don’t have those constitutional rights breached.”
The detainees are supposed to leave the detention centre inside the Lombrun Navy Base, but the men have said they fear potential violence from local residents who don’t want them to live in the town of Lorengau. Papua New Guinea’s government has deployed extra police to the town, but two of the three new locations are reportedly not surrounded by fencing.
The detainees reportedly had secured the perimeter fencing around the Lombrun compound in preparing to barricade themselves in.
As they did so, Papua New Guinea immigration officials posted notices for the detainees to leave before the site was handed back to the nation’s defence forces.
“Move to alternative accommodation now,” the notice read. “Anyone choosing to remain here will be liable for removal from an active PNG military base.”
Papua New Guinea has warned Australia that after the closure it will take no responsibility for “non-refugees” and people who refused to resettle, saying they were the Australian government’s responsibility. Its government is also demanding Australia clarify its plans for people found not to be refugees, and for refugees who refuse to settle on Manus Island.
Papua New Guinea Immigration Minister Petrus Thomas says Australia is responsible for finding third-country resettlement options for refugees and returning non-refugees to their home countries.
Acting Prime Minister Julie Bishop, standing in for Malcolm Turnbull while he is overseas, insists Australia is working to find solutions.
For the past four years, Australia has paid Papua New Guinea, its nearest neighbour, and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru to house asylum seekers who attempt to reach the Australian coast by boat. The United States has resettled 54 of them in recent weeks and is considering taking almost 1,200 more.
The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled in April last year that the male-only camp at the Manus Island naval base was unconstitutional and ordered it be closed.
Papua New Guinea responded by opening the camp gates so that asylum seekers would no longer be locked up, and the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments agreed in April that the camp would be closed by Oct. 31.
The first intake of refugees settled in the United States under a President Barack Obama-era deal included 25 from Papua New Guinea and 29 from Nauru. President Donald Trump described the deal as “dumb” but agreed to honour it.
Australia will not settle any refugees who try to arrive by boat — a policy that the government says dissuades asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous ocean crossing from Indonesia. Australia has also prevented boats from reaching Australia since July 2014 by using the Australian navy to turn boats back.
Six detainees have died on Manus Island, including one who was murdered, since the offshore detention centre was opened in 2012.
World Vision chief advocate Tim Costello urged the federal government to evacuate detainees to Australia, a suggestion it has consistently rejected.
“The Turnbull government must now act quickly to avoid any further bloodshed,” Costello said. “We must not abandon those we have placed in this highly volatile and dangerous situation.”