• Thursday, Aug 06, 2020
  • Last Update : 01:33 am

Asylum seekers refuse to leave Papua New Guinea camp despite loss of power, water

  • Published at 07:14 pm November 1st, 2017
Asylum seekers refuse to leave Papua New Guinea camp despite loss of power, water

Hundreds of asylum seekers refused to leave a detention centre in Papua New Guinea on Wednesday, even after power and water were cut and food supplies dwindled, in a stand-off that human rights groups warn could become a humanitarian crisis.

Australia and PNG are trying to close the Manus Island centre, one of two remote Pacific camps that Canberra uses to detain asylum seekers who arrive by boat. The camps have drawn widespread international condemnation.

The remote Manus island centre has been a key part of Australia's disputed "Sovereign Borders" immigration policy under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, detaining them instead in PNG and Nauru in the South Pacific.

Around 600 detainees on Manus island are defying the attempts to close the camp, saying they fear violent reprisals from the local community.

The asylum seekers, warned that utilities would be cut, had begun to collect rainwater in bins. However, without running water, advocates fear a rapid decline in sanitary conditions of the camp.

The loss of power also threatens to dampen morale of the detainees, nearly all of whom are suffering from mental health issues, according to a United Nations report in 2015.

"Mobile phones are a lifeline for these men," said Elaine Pearson, director of Human Rights Watch in Australia.

"They are completed isolated and they need phones to get real-time information about what is happening elsewhere on Manus, as well as to stay in touch with their families."

Acting Australian Prime Minister Julie Bishop said the men should move to the new centres, which Australia has said it would support with $195 million worth of food and security for the next 12 months.

The relocation of the men is designed as a temporary measure, allowing the United States time to complete vetting of refugees as part of a refugee swap deal that Australia hopes will see it no longer responsible for the detention of nearly 1,400 asylum seekers who have been classified as refugees.

Those not accepted by the United States would likely be resettled in PNG or in another developing country, dashing hopes of coming to Australia.

Lawyers for some of the 600 men filed a last-minute suit in PNG's Supreme Court on Tuesday to prevent the camp's closure and for services to be returned.

A ruling is expected later on Wednesday.

PNG's High Court ruled last year that the Manus centre, first opened in 2001, was illegal. The United Nations and rights groups have for years cited human rights abuses among detainees in the centres.

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