As paramilitary police removed 300 men by force from the Manus Island detention centre on Friday morning, refugee advocates have lashed the government for negligence.

World Vision CEO Tim Costello, who traveled to Manus on a fact-finding mission said the refugees were being moved from the decommissioned site to the East Lorengau camp.

Although Costello himself says he was not allowed to get too close to the centre during the police intervention, social media video footage has emerged apparently showing police attacking refugees with long metal poles.

“The place where they were has been trashed. They’ve put a fence around so that the friendly locals who were smuggling them food and water have been blocked,” he said.

Costello, who has called for a special Australian envoy to be brought in to mediate the situation says the detainees have become part of a “geopolitical game of chicken” involving New Zealand and the USA. 

“The PNG government are too afraid to do a deal with New Zealand because they’re afraid that means they’ve conceded these refugees are their responsibility. They’re worried if Trump hears about a deal with New Zealand, then he won’t honour his resettlement deal,” he told Crikey.

The Trump administration agreed to take 50 refugees from Manus and Nauru detention camps, while newly elected New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern offered to take 150 refugees.

“We are to blame for this and we must take responsibility,” Costello said.

The news of the forced removal comes a day after Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the arrest of several men at the squalid Manus camp including Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, who was released after two hours.

Costello added he believed the tactic was intended to reduce resistance against the move.

“I’m speculating but I think the policy was take out the leaders and the rest will crumble.”

Hundreds of men have refused to leave the facility, which formally closed last month, reportedly fearing for their safety on the island.

On Thursday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed that the government’s proposed alternative accommodation at West House was uninhabitable and would be so for several weeks.

Costello said that given the deadline for the closure of the camp on October 31 was known for 18 months, the Australian government’s response has drawn a deep sense of betrayal from residents of Manus.

“This is a big colonial power buck-passing to one of the most fragile economies on earth.”

Peter Fray

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