Papua New Guinea to arrest asylum seekers who refuse to leave detention centre

Asylum seekers protest on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
Asylum seekers protest on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Papua New Guinea's leader said authorities will apprehend those responsible for a nine-day standoff at an Australian-run detention centre for asylum seekers, where almost 600 men have barricaded themselves inside despite having no water or food.

The men in the remote Manus island facility have defied attempts by Australia and Papua New Guinea (PNG) to close the camp in a standoff that the United Nations has described as a "looming humanitarian crisis".

"Those involved in disruption have been identified and appropriate means will be used to apprehend individuals who are causing unnecessary anxiety and violence," Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said in a statement late on Wednesday (Nov 8).

The men inside the camp, who include asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Syria, said they will continue to defy attempts to close it, and O'Neill's comments stoked fears of confrontation.

The asylum seekers said they had exhausted their food supplies and were relying on rainwater. They are refusing to move to the three transit centres because they fear violent reprisals from the Manus island community and that they may be resettled elsewhere in PNG or in another developing nation.

Heavy rains have prevented the asylum seekers from boiling water and several of the men told Reuters that nearly 100 of them had fallen sick since utilities to the camp were cut off on Oct 31.

PNG's Supreme Court rejected an application by one of the men to restore services on Tuesday, despite pleas from the United Nations to make food, water, medical supplies and power available. About a dozen men have since left the camp to seek medical attention.

Lawyers for the asylum seekers are due to lodge an appeal against the Supreme Court's decision later on Thursday.

Representatives for Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Australia has used the Manus island centre and another on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, for more than four years to detain asylum seekers who arrive by boat as part of its controversial immigration policy.

Conditions in the camp have been heavily criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups.

The relocation plan is meant to give the United States time to complete vetting of candidates as part of a refugee swap deal under which Australia hopes it will no longer be responsible for the detention of nearly 1,400 asylum seekers.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull negotiated the deal, under which Australia will accept refugees from Central America, with former U.S. President Barack Obama last year.