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Contradictions over centre closure

Thursday 12 May 2016 | Published in Regional


PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Australia and Papua New Guinea continue to contradict each other over the legal requirements of a recent Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling on the detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island.

The court ruled Australia’s detention of asylum seekers was illegal, and ordered the PNG and Australian governments to immediately take steps to end their detention.

Last Friday night, PNG’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, Fred Sarufa, told the United Nations the court ruling meant the centre would close.

He said PNG was working with Australia on the Manus processing centre “in the light of a recent Papua New Guinea Supreme Court decision to close the centre”.

But Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Radio National the court ruling did not mean the centre must shut.

“The talks will continue for some time, I think they will probably go on for the next couple of months and they can deal with some of the legal issues,” Dutton said.

“But obviously the Supreme Court – as people now understand – had not ruled that Manus needed to close.”

PNG came under pressure at the United Nations hearing over the detention centre and during the hearing Fiji’s representative Nazhat Shameem Khan was critical.

“Fiji notes that the effect of this decision is that the detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island is illegal and unconstitutional and that the persons detained there must be released,” she said.

Sweden’s representative Josefin Broden also expressed concern.

“More than 900 asylum seekers and refugees are detained indefinitely in detention centres in Manus Island,” she said.

“The conditions in these centres are poor and the prolonged and indefinite detention is a concern.”

But Dutton told Radio National it is PNG who must resettle men found to be refugees, citing the memorandum of understanding entered into by the former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd with the PNG Government “and our expectation is that the MOU will be honoured”.

“Those people that have been found to be refugees under the MOU signed between Mr Rudd and the PM in PNG – the arrangement was for those refugees to be settled in PNG,” Dutton said.

Reports say the men on Manus Island are feeling anguish at the uncertainty over their future.

The Ministry of Immigration in Papua New Guinea says all asylum seekers detained on Manus Island are now free to come and go from the processing centre.

The Deputy Chief Migration Officer Esther Gaegaming said the Immigration Ministry was committed to complying with the orders of the Supreme Court to cease detention.

Gaegaming said all residents at the regional processing centre at Lombrum Naval Base were free to come and go.

She said they had been encouraged to relocate to the Manus Island Refugee Transit Centre in East Lorengau.

Meanwhile, the ABC reports that there is also evidence of deep resentment among staff at the company that runs the centre, Broad Spectrum, formerly known as Transfield.

Resignation letters from staff have been sighted by media reporting bullying, a tripling of the workload, a misunderstanding of welfare, poor living conditions and derogatory treatment.

New staff are told to avoid contact with existing workers, who were referred to as “flat batteries who could not be recharged”.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the company was never the right fit to run the detention centres.