Manus Island asylum-seeker center cleared in police operation

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.

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.

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.

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.

jm/se (AFP, Reuters)