Manus Island: Police storm isolated camp to remove refugees and 'destroy everything'

Sally Hayden
Men occupy the closed Manus Island immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea: REUTERS

Asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea's controversial refugee camp say they have been attacked and had their possessions destroyed after police stormed the complex.

Papua New Guinea's authorities are increasing pressure on asylum seekers on Manus Island to abandon a former detention centre, while its occupants say police have destroyed their beds, shelters and other possessions, and beat some of them up.

Police Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas confirmed 50 police and immigration officials visited the Manus camp on Thursday morning and persuaded 35 of the 378 men there to leave for alternative accommodation in the nearby town of Lorengau.

"There's no raid. It's an ongoing negotiation with the refugees," Mr Kakas told The Associated Press. "It's not an eviction exercise. We're telling them to move because there's water, food and proper shelter on the other side."

Hundreds of asylum seekers have been living on Manus Island for years, after being put there as part of Australia's "stop the boats" policy, which involves bringing those who reach Australia to offshore detention facilities for "processing."

Last year, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled that Australia's policy of housing asylum seekers in the Manus camp was unconstitutional. This resulted in its closure on 31 October.

However, residents have refused to leave, saying they fear for their safety in Papua New Guinea because of threats and attacks by local residents.

Over the past three weeks authorities have made conditions tougher in the camp by removing shelters and emptying drinking water tanks. Deadlines to abandon the camp have passed without authorities taking action.

On Twitter, journalist and Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani said he was handcuffed and held for two hours after tweeting about the latest police operation.

He had previously posted saying "something terrible is happening right now".

"They are taking the phones and are very aggressive and are taking out some refugees who still remain in the rooms," he said.

"They are very aggressive and put our belongings in the rubbish bins. The refugees still are silent are watching them so scared."

Boochani said two refugees were in urgent need of medical attention, including one who has epilepsy. He also said an Australian Federal Police officer was directing the operation and that some of the asylum seekers had been beaten up and forcibly removed.

Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the police operation in the camp during a radio interview.

"It's outrageous that people are still there and they've trashed the facility. They're living in squalor," Mr Dutton told Sydney Radio 2GB.

"But there is an operation involving police at the centre this morning. It's like the tenant that won't move out of the house when you've built a new house for them to move into," he added.

On Wednesday, UNHCR issued a statement calling what is happening on Manus "a man-made and entirely preventable humanitarian crisis. It is a damning indictment of a policy meant to avoid Australia's international obligations".

UNHCR also reiterated its position that Australia remains responsible for the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Australia pays Papua New Guinea, its nearest neighbour, and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru to hold thousands of asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have attempted to reach Australian shores by boat since mid-2013.

Image purportedly shows the ransacked immigration camp on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, on Thursday (Refugee Action Coalition)

The camp has been dubbed an “Australian Guantanamo”, after the US detention camp in Cuba.

Australia's Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has dismissed asylum seekers' fears for their safety if they stay in Papua New Guinea, accusing them of trying to pressure Australia into resettling them by refusing to move from Manus.

"They think that ... in some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia. Well, we will not be pressured. We will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers," Mr Turnbull told reporters.

"People on Manus should go to the alternative places of safety with all the facilities they need, they should do so peacefully and they should do so in accordance with the legal directions of Papua New Guinea."

Additional reporting by agencies.

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