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Thursday 28 April 2016 | Published in Regional


PORT MORESBY – Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill says the Manus Island regional refugee processing centre will be closed following a ruling from the country’s Supreme Court.

PNG’s Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal.

O’Neill has released a statement which said his government would “immediately ask the Australian government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers”.

“For those that have been deemed to be legitimate refugees, we invite them to live in Papua New Guinea only if they want to be a part of our society and make a contribution to our community,” he said.

“It is clear that several of these refugees do not want to settle in Papua New Guinea and that is their decision.”

Manus Island Governor Ronnie Knight, who represents the region where the Manus Island regional processing centre is located, said he expected the centre would close by tomorrow.

Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has already been in direct talks with Papua New Guinea’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Rimbink Pato.

Dutton said the Federal government would “continue discussions with the PNG government to resolve these matters”.

“We will work with our PNG partners to address the issues raised by the Supreme Court of PNG,” Dutton said in a statement.

“The Australian government has not resiled from its position that people who have attempted to come illegally by boat to Australia and who are now in the Manus facility will not be settled in Australia.”

About 850 men remain at the Manus Island detention centre – around half of whom have been found to be refugees – and numerous Australian ministers have stated that the remaining asylum seekers will not be brought to Australia.

No timeframe for the closure was outlined by O’Neill, who said the timing would be the focus of negotiations with Australia.

Iranian refugee Riaz Samadi said they should be brought to Australia.

“We came from Australia, we belong to Australia, we do not belong to PNG, we do not belong to other country,” Samadi said.

Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the Labor opposition remained committed to offshore processing.

“Were it me at this moment, I’d be in PNG right now,” he said. “I’d be trying to work out how offshore processing can be maintained. Any other option is incredibly difficult.”

Marles also refused to rule in or out any options for a potential Labor government, including the option of resettling on Christmas Island.

Manus MP Knight said he did not believe negotiations could lead to keeping the detention centre open.

“I don’t see where that can actually happen unless there’s a major drastic improvement in the way they are treated and if these people are kept more as guests than as inmates,” he said.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said the closure of the Manus Island facility was the “beginning of the end” of Australia’s policy on asylum seekers.

“Australian policy has basically been to make life so miserable for the asylum seekers in Manus and Nauru that they ultimately just go back home,” he said.

“Ostensibly there is a right to asylum, ostensibly they can seek refuge in these islands.”