Supplied undated image obtained Wednesday, October 26, 2017 of refugees and asylum seekers at the Manus Island immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea. A Human Rights Watch report released before the detention centre’s closure details claims that refugees have been robbed and stabbed on Manus Island. (AAP Image/Human Rights Watch) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Papua New Guinea has demanded the Turnbull government urgently resolve what will happen to hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island, with the processing centre scheduled to close on Tuesday.
Tensions have been rising on the island ahead of the imminent shutdown, and refugee advocates have expressed fears the “powderkeg” may erupt into violence involving locals, detainees and police.
There have been reports locals are threatening to arm themselves to stop detainees moving into their community.
Amnesty International, which has had a team on the island over recent days, said it was concerned about the restrictions to food, power, water, and medical and sanitation services imposed on the men at the centre, and urged the Australian and PNG governments to prevent violence from erupting as the centre was forcibly closed.
The PNG government warned Canberra that it will not force refugees to resettle in the country if they do not want to remain, and said Australia was responsible for dealing with them.
“It is PNG’s position that as long as there is one individual from this arrangement that remains in PNG, Australia will continue to provide financial and other support to PNG to manage the persons transferred under the arrangement until the last last person leaves or is independently resettled in PNG,” Immigration Minister Petrus Thomas said in a statement.
Some 600 men have been refusing to leave the centre at the Lombrum Navy Base, despite its planned closure on Tuesday, amid fears they won’t be safe at three other facilities they are meant to relocate to, in and around the island’s main town of Lorengau.
Mr Thomas said his government had discharged its responsibilities under the two countries’ asylum seeker processing arrangement and Australia now had to find a solution for the men who have not been granted refugee status and refugees who refuse to stay in PNG.
“PNG has no obligation under the current arrangement to deal with these two cohorts and they remain the responsibility of Australia to pursue third country options and liaise with respective governments of the non-refugees for their voluntary or involuntary return,” he said.
The Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said Mr Thomas’ statement had made it clear “the humanitarian disaster on Manus is being driven by the Australian government”.
Amnesty International said PNG security officials and private security contractors “must abide by international obligations and refrain from excessive use of force”.
“The Australian and Papua New Guinean governments must take all necessary steps to prevent violence against refugees from the community and ensure their safety,” Amnesty researcher Kate Scheutze said.
PNG has deployed its notorious “paramilitary” police squad to assist with the shutdown.
Manus Island governor Charlie Benjamin has warned that many locals feared they would be in danger from the refugees and asylum seekers, and were threatening to arm themselves with knives and other weapons to stop any of the 600 men moving in to Lorengau.
The safety of refugees, government workers and agency staff “is not to be taken for granted given the tension that is now being expressed by the locals on Manus Island,” national police chief Gari Baki said last week.
In April, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton flagged the centre would be closed by October 31 but last week warned that ongoing resistance would “make it hard for us to achieve” the deadline.
Australian government officials have confirmed that water, food, power and sanitation will be cut off at “some point” on Tuesday.
Dining facilities at Lombrum have closed, with the asylum seekers now relying on basic food parcels containing muesli bars, muffins, cornflakes and pre-cooked meals they’ve been told will last two days.
Following fresh human rights concerns raised by the United Nations in recent days, Mr Thomas urged the Australian government to maintain all necessary medical and mental health services on Manus.
Alternative accommodation has been offered but one facility, West Lorengau Haus, is not ready and another, Hillside Haus, consists mostly of “transferable accommodation containers”.
Fairfax Media has contacted Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s office for a response.
– with Michael Koziol, AAP
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