PNG authorities destroy shelters, move refugees at Australia camp
SYDNEY: Papua New Guinea authorities destroyed makeshift shelters and removed water stores in a shuttered Australia refugee camp Friday, just hours ahead of a deadline for the inmates to leave or be forced out, detainees said.
The Manus Island camp held asylum-seekers who tried to reach Australia by boat under Canberra's tough immigration policy, but was ruled unconstitutional by PNG's Supreme Court and closed on October 31.
Some 600 men barricaded themselves in the camp despite water and electricity being cut off, citing fears of a hostile reception from locals near three new transition centres set up for them.
Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee on Manus, tweeted Friday that shelters were torn down, while rubbish bins used to collect rainwater had been destroyed.
"Police and immigration destroyed our shelters. Inside the rooms is very hot without power for fans. We built these shelters to provide shade & cover from tropical sun & rain," he wrote.
He said workers on Thursday had also removed security fences around the centre.
Footage released Friday by Australian advocacy group GetUp showed the men enduring deteriorating conditions, with detainees sleeping on tables outside shipping containers to escape the heat, as well as blocked toilets and makeshift wells dug to store water.
"Death or serious illness is inevitable in coming days," GetUp human rights co-director Shen Narayanasamy, who visited the camp, said in a statement.
"These men are sick, thirsty and hungry. The conditions are appalling and it's obvious you wouldn't choose to stay here if you thought you could be safer elsewhere."
- Hundred 'refusing' to go -
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday called on the refugees to "comply with the lawful requests and requirements of the PNG authorities", and stressed they would not be taken to his country.
PNG police said Friday that "almost 60 refugees have voluntarily boarded" transport to their new locations".
Police spokesman Superintendent Dominic Kakas added that he expected "all refugees will leave the centre" Friday.
But Boochani told AFP only a few people had left the centre with hundreds of others "still refusing" to go.
A notice at the camp Thursday warned that "force may be used to relocate those who refuse to move voluntarily" by Saturday.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill added that "appropriate means" would be used to "apprehend individuals who are causing unnecessary anxiety and violence".
- 'Free the refugees' -
Canberra has been under pressure from refugee advocates and the United Nations to close the camp on Manus, and another on Nauru, amid concerns about their conditions and the impact of prolonged detention on mental and physical health.
But the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva Thursday slammed the closure of Manus "without adequate arrangements for long-term viable relocation solutions for all refugees and asylum-seekers transferred there".
The refugees remain barred from resettling in Australia even though Canberra has struggled to transfer them to third countries.
Late Friday hundreds of protestors in Sydney clashed with police as demonstrators tried to stop guests from entering a political fundraising event with former conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Rally-goers were calling on immigration minister Peter Dutton, who was also attending the fundraiser, to end offshore detention and bring refugees to Australia.
Armed with loud speakers, demonstrators chanted "Free, free the refugees", and "Abbott, Dutton, blood on your hands", while blocking the paths of Abbott's guests and shouting "Shame on you".
Riot police were forced to form a guard around dinner party attendees to get them through the crowd, with occasional scuffles breaking out between protestors.
Hundreds more people marched in the streets of Melbourne.