Manus Island asylum-seeker center cleared in police operation

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23.11.2017

Manus: controversial camp cleared

Papua New Guinea police cleared and sealed off a former Australian immigration detention center after the last 300 asylum-seekers were taken away in buses. The men said they feared for their safety outside the camp.

The last 300 men, mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria and Sri Lanka, were forcibly removed from the Manus Island center after a three-week standoff with Papua New Guinea (PNG) police following closure of the camp.

About 60 asylum seekers arrived at one of the transit centers in buses early on Friday, according to one of the people who had been moved. Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, himself an asylum seeker acting as a spokesman, said four buses of refugees and asylum seekers were taken from the camp on Friday morning.

Boochani sent video of the removal via Twitter:

The men at the center had refused to leave the camp and barricaded themselves inside, without access to regular food or water, as they feared being resettled in PNG or another developing nation. They also feared for their safety outside the camp because of threats from local residents.

Law and Justice | 13.11.2017

Amy Frew, a lawyer at the Australia-based Human Rights Law Centre, said on Friday: "These men are scared, they are exhausted and they are despairing."

"After four and a half years of limbo and uncertainty they still have nowhere safe to go," Frew said.

The United Nations has urged the Australian and PNG governments to engage in a constructive dialogue and to reduce the tension.

The Australian-run camp was closed after PNG's Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional.

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Strict immigration policy

Australia operates a strict "sovereign borders" immigration policy, refusing to allow asylum seekers who attempt to reach the country by boat to settle there. Australia pays PNG and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru to hold thousands of asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Australia's navy has been turning back boats, preventing them from reaching Australia since July 2014. The measures were introduced following a series of deadly shipwrecks involving people trying to seek refuge in Australia.

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Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop backed the policy on Friday saying "In fact nations respect our stand against people smuggling."

Under an agreement with former US President Barack Obama, the US agreed to resettle up to 1,250 refugees. That deal was criticized by US President Donald Trump, who nonetheless agreed to stick to it. So far, only 54 applicants have been accepted by the US.

The Manus camp had sheltered 600 refugees, most of them since 2013, but 200 moved voluntarily to the new centers earlier this month.

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Police presence

Papua New Guinea authorities entered the Manus Island detention center on Thursday morning to expel asylum seekers. Police Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas said 50 police and immigration officials entered the camp.

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Police: not a raid

"There's no raid. It's an ongoing negotiation with the refugees," Kakas told AP. "It's not an eviction exercise. We're telling them to move because there's water, food and proper shelter on the other side."

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Asylum seekers: food and water confiscated

Residents claim authorities attacked their makeshift supplies again. "They destroyed our food and damaged our accommodation too, they destroyed our water tank," one asylum seeker told Reuters.

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Deadline passed

Deadlines to abandon the camp earlier in November passed without authorities taking action. Food, water and power supplies ended when the Manus camp officially closed on October 31. Police then ramped up pressure by emptying water tanks and removing shelters.

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UN: humanitarian crisis

Advocacy group Asylum Seeker Resource Center (ASRC) said more than 150 men at in the camp were seriously ill, lacking access to basic first aid or medicine. The United Nations had previously described the standoff as a "looming humanitarian crisis", calling on Australia to take immediate action to avert disaster.

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Violent history

The detention center has an ugly history of violence. Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati was killed — and another 69 asylum seekers injured — during a riot in 2014. Two locals, a guard and a Salvation army employee, were convicted of his murder.

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Protesters: Justice for refugees

Australia's hardline immigration policy has provoked criticism both at home and abroad. President Malcolm Turnbull suggested refugees in Manus were using the situation to gain asylum. "They think that ... in some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia. Well, we will not be pressured. We will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers."

jm/se (AFP, Reuters)