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Saturday 9 April 2016 | Published in Regional


PAPUA NEW GUINEA – The Papua New Guinea Government says it has finished assessing whether the asylum seekers detained on Australia’s behalf on Manus Island are refugees.

Nearly half – 400 of the 850 men in the Australian-funded detention centre – have been found to be refugees.

A further 60 have already left detention for a nearby “transit centre” to prepare for resettlement in PNG.

The rush of processing was revealed last week, when detainees were told applications would no longer be taken after March 31, and anyone whose claim was rejected was to go home or be deported.

PNG immigration authorities, which manage the centre with help from Australia, have been separating the men found to be refugees from those with so-called “negative determinations”.

Manus detainees with positive determinations were to be separated in the camp before moving to a transit centre and then resettlement in PNG. It is alleged inducements were offered and threats of force made to encourage cooperation.

Some Manus detainees had said they would resist separation, and there were claims of altercations as people were crowded into rooms and prayer spaces, but on Friday the centre was reported to be calm.

Detainees said centre staff and immigration authorities were using a range of measures – including removing “credit points” used to make phone calls or buy cigarettes and restricting access to English classes – to make the refugees accept resettlement in PNG.

Many refugees still do not want to leave the detention centre because they do not want to be settled in PNG and believe they will not be safe in the general community.

PNG Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato said all the men would be living in separate parts of the centre by June 6, 2016.

“We need these people to be thinking about their futures,” he said.

“Refugees are not detained; however under the current accommodation arrangements many refugees do not realise that anything has changed when they get their refugee status notification.”

Pato described the completion of refugee status assessments as “a significant milestone” but said the centre would not be closed anytime soon.

“It will remain operational for as long as it is required,” he said.

“However, its purpose is for refugee processing — it is not designed or intended for people to stay there indefinitely. We want people to move on with their lives.”

Those from the Manus centre found to be refugees will move into the PNG community. Several who had already moved to the capital Port Moresby, or the next biggest city Lae, have said they are struggling without employment or support.

Guardian Australia was told four men had recently returned to Manus from Port Moresby, claiming they were not safe and seeking re-entry to the centre.

Of the small number of refugees who have been resettled in PNG, two have already left their allocated jobs over complaints about wages, conditions or accommodation.

In March, PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said the detention centre needed to close, but later said the Australian government would make the final decision.

- PNC sources