Inmates at Manus Island detention center, a controversial structure used by the Australian government to detain illegal immigrants, have barricaded themselves inside, fearing they will be met by “unchecked violence” from locals if they emerge.
Refugees held by Australia in the controversial Manus Island detention center, near Papua New Guinea — sometimes dubbed “Australia’s Guantanamo” — have barricaded themselves inside the center and launched legal action to fight its closure.
Australia first opened the center in 2001, to house refugees that attempt to reach its shores unofficially by boat — any intercepted are detained, and held in Manus Island, or a similar center in Nauru.
Six asylum seekers have died at the Manus Island center since 2013, including Iranian Reza Barati, murdered during a riot.
The Australian government has moved to close the camp, and offered compensation totalling AUD$70 million (US$53m) to asylum seekers and refugees detained on Manus Island who alleged they suffered harm there, following a lawsuit alleging detainees had been housed in inhumane conditions below Australian standards, given inadequate medical treatment and exposed to systemic abuse and violence. The government called the settlement “prudent” — and denied any wrongdoing, ruling out rehoming them in Australia.
Human Rights Watch warned October 25, that remaining refugees in the center — numbers approximately as high as 700 — could face “unchecked violence” from locals who had attacked them in the past, occasionally with machetes and rocks.
As a result, refugees have begun stockpiling water and dry biscuits, as well as creating makeshift apparatuses for catching rainwater.
Inhabitants told BBC journalists local residents looted the compound after security guards left.
The refugees can theoretically permanently resettle in Papua New Guinea, apply to live in Cambodia, or request a transfer to Nauru, but few have taken up these options.
A separate resettlement deal struck with the Obama administration in 2016 saw the US agree to take up to 1,250 refugees from the PNG and Nauru centers.
In September, a group of about 50 became the first to be accepted under the agreement. The agreement, administered under the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, prioritizes women, children and other refugees judged to be the most vulnerable.
However, the US has not given an estimate of how long the application process will take, and is not obliged to accept all of them.
Greg Barns, a lawyer assisting with newly-launched legal action to prevent the closure, said Australia’s attempt to shut down the center breached rights enshrined in PNG’s constitution.
“The men are vulnerable to attacks and physical harm so we are seeking to ensure their constitutional rights are not breached and there is a resumption of the basic necessities of life. The men have been dumped on the street, literally. What is going on is unlawful,” he told the BBC.
The legal action also seeks to prevent forcible removal of the men to an alternative center on the island, and calls for them to be transferred to Australia or a safe third country.