Australia agrees to close asylum seeker camp in Papua New Guinea


The migrant center in Papua New Guinea that houses people who tried to sail to Australia will be closed, the two governments said. The officials gave no timeline for the move and no details on asylum seekers’ fate.

The Australia-funded camp holds more than 800 asylum seekers in the neighboring nation as part of Canberra’s controversial migrant policy. Recently, the Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea (PNG) ruled that the camp was “unconstitutional” and that the practice of detaining asylum seekers and refugees on the island of Manus needed to stop.

“Both Papua New Guinea and Australia are in agreement that the centre is to be closed,” PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said on Wednesday.

“It is important that this process is not rushed but carried out in a careful manner.”

Canberra refuses to take in people seeking refuge who try to reach Australian shores by smugglers’ boats and moves them to camps in PNG and Nauru instead. Some of the migrants spend years in the camps before they are resettled in Papua New Guinea, and others are returned to their home countries.

Pro-refugee and migrant activists have repeatedly slammed this practice.

No entry to Australia

On Wednesday, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed that the Manus camp in PNG would be closed, but vowed to stick to Canberra’s “Sovereign Borders” stance.

“Our position, confirmed again today with PNG, is that no one from Manus Island Regional Processing Centre will ever be settled in Australia,” he said.

He did not say when the camp would be closed or which alternative locations are being considered to house the refugees.

Canberra has been facing massive pressure over reports of abuse in Nauru. Last week, a newspaper published leaked documents on more than 2,000 incidents of sexual abuse, assault and attempted self-harm over two years in the camp.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations have criticized the Australian government, but the officials in Canberra largely brushed the accusations aside. Australian officials say the deterrent policy is needed to stop asylum seekers dying at sea.

‘Safety and dignity’

The news of closure was immediately welcomed by refugee advocates.

“Nearly a thousand men on Manus have already lost three or more years of their lives locked up in limbo for no good reason,” Elaine Pearson, Australia Director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

“They’ve endured dirty, cramped conditions, inadequate medical care and violence. Finally, it is time to let them move on with their lives in safety and dignity.”

dj/se (AFP, Reuters)