PNG police enter Manus asylum centre, Australia confirms


PNG police enter Manus asylum centre, Australia confirms

Image copyright AFP PHOTO / GetUp
Image caption PNG authorities have given asylum seekers a deadline to leave, the former detainees say

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, the Australian government has confirmed.

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, the men inside the centre said that PNG police had given them a one-hour deadline to leave.

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.

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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 remained in the centre on Thursday, and they would act only peacefully.

Skip Twitter post by @BehrouzBoochani

The refugees are sitting peacefully and immigration and police are asking them to leave the prison camp. The refugees are only listening and completely silent. They are talking on the microphone and shouting " Move Move"

— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) November 22, 2017


End of Twitter post by @BehrouzBoochani

Image copyright ABDUL AZIZ ADAM
Image caption The former detainees say authorities have destroyed items in the centre

He 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, Behrouz 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.

The men 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.

Wait for resolution

Hwyel Griffith, BBC News Sydney correspondent

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.

Australia has repeatedly said that the alternative accommodation 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.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionInside the squalid Manus camp

"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.

Future unclear

Canberra has steadfastly ruled out allowing the men into Australia, arguing it would prompt further human trafficking and lead to deaths at sea.

Refugees had been given the option of permanent resettlement in PNG, applying to live in Cambodia, or requesting a transfer to Nauru. Advocates say few have taken up these options.

The US has agreed to take up to 1,250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru under a resettlement deal. However, it may ultimately accept fewer than that.

New Zealand has offered to take 150 refugees from the PNG centre, but Canberra has resisted this proposal – arguing it would effectively be a "back door" to Australia.

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