POLITICS

Manus Island Centre Shutting Down With Refugees Still Inside

'It is absolute cowardice, immorality and against human rights.'

01/08/2017 12:07 PM AEST | Updated 01/08/2017 12:08 PM AEST
Amir Taghinia
The Manus Island centre, in the early stages of demolition

Water and power is being shut off, and buildings demolished, at the Manus Island regional processing centre ahead of its planned closure on October 31, but refugees and asylum seekers fear further violence from locals if they are pushed from the centre into the wider Papua New Guinean community.

It has been a dramatic and troubling week on Manus, as the countdown to the centre's shutdown begins. A Sudanese refugee and an Iranian asylum seeker were allegedly attacked in separate armed robberies over the weekend, suffering deep cuts and machete wounds. The incidents came as power, water and cleaning services were cut off from the Foxtrot compound, the largest building inside the Manus RPC and the latest move to force the residents out from the centre and into the Manusian community.

As of June 30, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection reported there were 803 men in the "current transferee populations and refugee populations" in the Manus Island centre. Printed advisories distributed to the men in the RPC, printed under the letterhead of PNG's immigration department, state residents should prepare for a move to the East Lorengau refugee transit centre, an already overcrowded facility ten kilometres west.

"Should you not move, you may be in violation of PNG law. Attempt to occupy without consent State property is also subject to legal action," the letter said.

Local MP Ron Knight told HuffPost Australia in April that the centre was already "full" and could not host another few hundred people.

"It's a 230-bed capacity transit centre, it's already at full capacity. You're trying to bring in 300, 400 or 500 people? You'd have to be an idiot," he said.

Reports from Manus in recent days show the gradual increase of pressure on centre residents to leave the Lombrum facility. Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist held on Manus for several years, tweeted about a rolling series of utilities shutdowns in various parts of the centre.

"It's unbelievable how immigration is using power and water as a tool to force people to accept to live in PNG," Boochani told HuffPost Australia.

"The refugees in Manus prefer to live in the detention centre rather than PNG, because PNG is not safe and there will not be any protection for them."

The weekend attacks on the refugee and asylum seeker have been pointed to by RPC residents that they will not be safe in the wider PNG community. In April, Knight said the local population would not welcome the RPC residents with open arms.

"They'll hope they integrate with the community. That won't happen," he said.

"It's not PNG's problem, it's Australia's problem. You look at these people as asylum seekers and refugees, but Papua New Guineans view them as illegal immigrants."

Knight said he didn't oppose the plan to relocate to Lorengau because he dislikes the asylum seekers -- he has previously said the men at Manus are "some of the most intelligent beautiful people I have met" -- but because the town and facility could not support a sudden influx of several hundred people, and that the asylum seekers would not be able to integrate into the wider community.

In recent days, Boochani reported police arriving at the gate of the RPC as refugees and asylum seekers asked for the power in the Foxtrot compound to be turned back on. At the same time, other residents reported construction equipment being brought into the facility, to begin the work of demolishing the buildings.

"Pressure is increasing inside the prison camp and on the other side the attacks on the refugees in Lorengau town are increasing," Boochani told HuffPost Australia.

In response to the situation, refugee advocates from the Refugee Action Coalition will hold a snap protest outside Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's Sydney electorate office on Thursday night, calling for the Australian government to "bring them here".

More On This Topic