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Manus Island detention camp to close by 30 June, detainees told

Papua New Guinea immigration officials tell refugees they should ‘consider their options’ as centre shutdown begins

Gulf News

Port Moresby: The Manus Island immigration detention centre will close by June 30, with demolition of the first compounds to begin this month, detainees on the island have been told.

On Monday a man, purported to be a Papua New Guinean immigration official, told detainees to “consider your options” as migration and police officers had already commenced the shutdown process.

“Service will end and the demolition of remaining buildings will soon begin. Foxtrot compound will be the first to close, starting on May 28,” the man said in a recording obtained by Guardian Australia. He said the last compound would close by June 30. “You need to consider your options. No one will go to Australia.”

He said those with refugee status could move into the PNG community, or temporarily into the East Lorengau transit centre. Non-refugees could return to their home country immediately, or reside in Mike compound until it too was closed and dismantled.

“Once closed the electricity will be turned off and your buildings will be relocated. The area will be locked and nobody will be permitted to enter,” he said. “Everyone will need to move out of RPC before it shuts down. Do not leave it too late to make a decision.” “This applies to everyone,” he said.

The official said the US deal — struck by the Turnbull government and the Obama administration for the US to take up to 1,200 refugees from Manus and Nauru — remained in place and officials would conduct further visits “in the coming months”.

Impossible choice

He told the detainees the closing of the RPC would have no effect on their refugee status, and told them to “make decisions about your future”. “You have an opportunity to get on with your life.”

The Greens senator Nick McKim said Australia had to bring the detainees to Australia. “PNG does not have the resources to care for or resettle the men,” he said. “After four years of hell overseen by the Australian government, these men have now been given two weeks to make an impossible choice.

This represents a shocking abrogation of our legal and moral responsibility for people who have reached out a hand and sought our assistance. The walls of the detention centre were the only thing between asylum seekers and heavy gunfire last month — now Peter Dutton wants to knock down the walls.” McKim travelled to Manus Island earlier this month but was denied entry to the centre, which he described as “disappointing and frustrating”.

Vague timeline

In April last year the PNG supreme court ruled the centre to be unconstitutional and the detention of asylum seekers illegal. Despite the order to close the centre, the timeline has been vague and littered with confusion, including a PNG chief justice declaring it already closed in March.

In February an Australian government official said the centre would be closed by the end of this year. Since the supreme court ruling, some freedoms were granted to the detainees following the supreme court ruling, including the ability travel into the nearby town, but they remain in the same accommodation compounds, inside a restricted naval base.

Last month detainees and staff cowered in rooms and fled into nearby jungle after Navy soldiers opened fire on the centre, injuring two people. The shooting occurred after a conflict on a football field between detainees and soldiers escalated. The Australian immigration minister has since repeatedly sought to connect the shooting to alleged community fears about detainees allegedly leading a young boy through the centre, but every authority on the island, as well as locals and detainees, have refuted his accusation.