Canberra agrees to close controversial migrant camp

A 2014 file picture showing asylum-seekers behind a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. The camp was in the spotlight this week after Australian media published graphic images of two Afghan men there who had allegedly been
A 2014 file picture showing asylum-seekers behind a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea. The camp was in the spotlight this week after Australian media published graphic images of two Afghan men there who had allegedly been beaten by locals.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

But asylum-seekers now housed in Papua New Guinea won't be resettled in Australia

SYDNEY • Australia has agreed to close a camp for asylum-seekers on Papua New Guinea, one of two controversial Pacific island centres attracting growing criticism, but said none of the hundreds of men there now would be resettled on its soil.

Canberra's policy of sending asylum-seekers who arrive by boat to outposts on Papua New Guinea and the tiny Pacific state of Nauru was thrown into turmoil in April when a Papua New Guinea court ordered the Manus Island centre closed.

"Both Papua New Guinea and Australia are in agreement that the centre is to be closed," Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said in a statement yesterday following talks with Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in Port Moresby.

"It is important that this process is not rushed but carried out in a careful manner."

Canberra has been under pressure to shut the Australian-funded Manus facility, which as at June 30 held 854 men, following a Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling declaring that holding people there was unconstitutional and illegal.

The centre was in the spotlight this week after Australian media published graphic images of two bloodied Afghan men there who had allegedly been attacked with an iron bar by locals on Manus.

The government is also facing criticism about the plight of some 442 asylum-seekers on Nauru, after thousands of leaked incident reports last week detailed allegations of widespread abuse and self- harm, including children wanting to kill themselves.

"Today we can announce... the closure of the Manus Island detention centre and that's a very good outcome," Mr Dutton told Sky News, without specifying a timeframe.

Closing the camp shows the government's policy of refusing to resettle asylum-seekers in Australia was working, he said, adding that the policy would not change.

Under Operation Sovereign Borders, asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia by boat - even if they are refugees - are either sent back to where they departed from or transferred to Nauru and Manus.

The policy has been criticised by rights groups as essentially placing refugees in indefinite detention on remote Pacific islands, with a protester yesterday interrupting a speech by Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to urge him to "close the bloody camps".

But the government says it has stopped deaths at sea.

Mr Dutton said Australia and Papua New Guinea would work together to support asylum-seekers and refugees' transition to lives in the developing Pacific nation or return to their country of origin.

"We are very adamant, very clear in our messaging so far... when the detention centre closes, that our position is not going to change," Mr Dutton said, adding that this could see people accept settlement packages to return home.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'Canberra agrees to close controversial migrant camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe