PNG police start clearing refugees from Aussie camp

Over the past three weeks, only about 200 men - out of approximately 600 men held on Manus Island - have agreed to leave voluntarily for three nearby transition centres.
Over the past three weeks, only about 200 men - out of approximately 600 men held on Manus Island - have agreed to leave voluntarily for three nearby transition centres.PHOTO: REUTERS

Relocation comes as Canberra stands by decision not to admit them

SYDNEY • Papua New Guinea (PNG) police yesterday raided a shuttered Australian detention camp, removing dozens of refugees in an effort to end a stand-off that has drawn global attention to Canberra's tough asylum-seeker policies.

Hundreds of men sent to the remote camp on Manus Island have refused to leave the site for new, PNG-run centres since Australia closed it on Oct 31.

Over the past three weeks, only about 200 men - out of approximately 600 men held in Manus - have agreed to leave voluntarily for three nearby transition centres. The others insist on being resettled in third countries.

Yesterday, police moved in and took 50 men to alternative camps, PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki said.

"We are doing the best we can and the refugees cannot continue to be stubborn and defiant," Commissioner Baki said in a statement yesterday afternoon.

"The fact is that we are not moving them into the jungle. They are being relocated to two centres where there is water, electricity, food and medical services."

Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton suggested the police operation would continue, saying "there is a lot of work that is ongoing".

ON THE MOVE

A number of people... have been moved and we would expect the number, which up until this morning had been about 370 people within that centre, would drop obviously well below that now. 

AUSTRALIA'S IMMIGRATION MINISTER PETER DUTTON, on the operation to move people from the camp.

"A number of people... have been moved and we would expect the number, which up until this morning had been about 370 people within that centre, would drop obviously well below that now," he told Sky News.

He added that a "small number" of men were arrested during yesterday's action, including Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani, who has been acting as a spokesman for the detainees.

Mr Boochani was later released. Police commissioner Baki said he was neither arrested nor charged but moved to one of the transition centres.

Detainees had earlier tweeted and posted photos and videos on social media of the PNG authorities sweeping through the camp, saying police had pulled belongings from rooms and shouted at them to get into buses.

Mr Boochani tweeted that police had destroyed their shelters and water tanks, and said the refugees were on "high alert" and "under attack".

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull reaffirmed his government's stance yesterday that none of the refugees, who were sent to the camp for trying to reach Australia by boat, would be brought to his country. The men are barred from resettling in Australia, and Mr Turnbull said their actions were meant to push Canberra into changing its mind.

The government has tried to resettle the refugees in third countries, including the United States, with little success. Just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to the US in September.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2017, with the headline 'PNG police start clearing refugees from Aussie camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe