manus asylum seeker refugee

Asylum seekers on Manus Island face segregation based on refugee status as Papua New Guinea prepares to shut down the offshore detention centre by October.

Both Fairfax and Guardian Australia yesterday reported that detainees in the Manus Island detention centre had been told that the process to begin shutting down the detention centre will commence in a matter of weeks, and will be completed by the end of October after the PNG Supreme Court ruled the detention centre was unconstitutional.

Detainees have reportedly been told to make a decision on their future — settling in PNG or otherwise — but have been told they will not be settled in Australia.

Iranian refugee and journalist detained on Manus Island, Behrouz Boochani, posted on Facebook yesterday that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIPB) plans to segregate the detainees into different camps, with the Foxtrot compound being closed first, and detainees moved to camps based on whether they have been interviewed for US immigration, have been given a positive refugee status but have not been interviewed by US authorities, and everyone else.

There has been no guarantee from the Trump administration in the United States that the deal to transfer 1250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to the US will be honored in full. As it stands, there aren’t enough spaces in the agreement for those on Manus and Nauru who have expressed interest in going to the United States.

DIPB has told a Senate committee that as of March this year, 1626 people (605 on Manus, 997 on Nauru and 24 in Australia) had expressed interest in being considered for resettlement in the United States, including 1253 men, 228 women and 45 children. There are over 800 detainees on Manus Island, as of the end of March.

If all these refugees pass the US government’s vetting process currently underway, that will be more than the full allocation of refugees under the deal the Turnbull government struck with the former Obama administration. The current focus will be on resettling the most vulnerable, according to the department, with a focus on women, children and families.

Boochani said there had been “strong resistance” from the PNG locals for more refugees being resettled into the community, and he warned that the refugees would likely resist pressure to resettle in PNG, without protection being offered for their safety.

As of the end of February, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection reported that 32 men from the Manus Island detention centre had resettled in PNG, but three of those people had subsequently decided to leave PNG “voluntarily”. The department said those found not to have refugee status will be provided assistance to return to their country of origin.

The government has been holding confidential discussions with other nations in our region for possibly resettling refugees from Manus and Nauru, but Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has made a public interest immunity claim to prevent the detail of those discussions from being made public.

Yesterday, Amnesty International contradicted claims made by both the PNG Police and the DIPB that on the night of the Good Friday incident on Manus Island, drunken PNG soldiers “discharged a weapon in the air”, with over 100 bullets estimated to have been fired. The group analysed 21 photographs and six videos of the incident, and found damage done to the walls and a fence in the centre indicate that at least some of the shots were fired into the Manus Island detention centre.

Amnesty labelled Dutton’s as-yet-unproven claim that the incident was sparked by concern over the safety of a child who had visited the centre and was given fruit a while ago as “reckless and irresponsible”. The parents of the child have yet to make any sort of complaint about the incident, despite claims they would from conservative media. Almost every other report about the incident suggests the Good Friday violence was sparked over a fight between PNG soldiers and the refugees over the use of a soccer field.

Dutton has yet to offer proof for his allegations. The PNG police earlier this month reported receiving no complaints about the incident as they prepare to lay charges against the soldiers involved in the shooting. The department is likely to face lengthy questioning on the brief it provided to Dutton when budget estimates hearings are held next week.

Peter Fray

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