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PAPUA NEW GUINEA– A Manus Island MP says he fears the release of asylum seekers and refugees from the detention centre may lead to violence. Papua New Guinea immigration authorities said the 898 men in Australia’s offshore processing centre on Manus Island are no longer in detention. The men can now come and go as they please and can visit the main town, Lorengau. This is to comply with a Supreme Court ruling last month that found their detention was illegal. Australia has denied responsibility for the freed detainees welfare, despite claims they are lucky not to have been “chopped up” by locals wielding machetes. Papua New Guinea chief migration officer Mataio Rabura told Fairfax Media that detainees were now free to leave the Manus Island centre after that nation’s Supreme Court ordered the facility was illegal and unconstitutional, and the detention must end. He said asylum seekers and refugees at the detention centre had been encouraged to relocate to a nearby transit facility “where they can go and come”, adding that detainees were being bused in and out of the detention centre each day. The detainees on Manus Island say they now have the option to catch one of three buses into the main town each morning, but must sign agreements taking responsibility for their own safety. They are not allowed to walk out of the centre, because it is on a PNG naval base. They also say they may stay at an Australian Immigration-run transit centre overnight. But Manus MP Ronnie Knight said residents feared they will have to deal with unwanted bad behaviour, particularly from detainees harassing local women. “There’s been incidences already where we’ve had these people chasing young girls,” he said. Knight was unable to say if those involved in recent incidents were newly released detainees or those who already lived at the transit centre, because “they all look the same”. “It’s been happening for some time. They are assaulting and chasing women, young local]boys have been chasing them back with bush knives, machetes, iron bars,” Knight said. Knight claimed the detainees had been spared from being “chopped up” because Manus Island was a “peaceful” place compared with elsewhere in PNG. “If it was the highlands there would have been many deaths already,” he said. For their part, the detainees say many of them are afraid to leave the centre, because they fear being attacked by locals. Papua New Guinea’s deputy chief Migration Officer, Esther Gaegaming, said: “No asylum seeker or refugee is in detention. We are continuing to work towards fully implementing the orders of the Supreme Court.” But refugee Behrouz Boochani said the changes had not allowed true freedom of movement. “They are still controlling us,” he said. “Even when we want to go from Oscar to Delta (internal compounds) we have to give our ID cards to the officers “It means we are not free to walk.” Boochani said the refugees and asylum seekers were still being separated inside the centre and those deemed to be refugees could not visit the compounds where men who were unsuccessful in their refugee applications were housed. The men are only allowed to leave Manus Island if they sign an agreement to be resettled in PNG, and the ABC understands only eight men have done that. Of those, three have returned to Manus Island, saying they had been robbed and threatened when they were resettled in the mainland town of Lae. They say the could not earn enough money to support themselves. Two refugees who left Manus Island were arrested upon returning – one for trying to get back into the transit centre for refugees and another for repeatedly asking for a phone and credit to call his family. Another refugee remains in hospital in Lae after being violently robbed twice in two days. Only three men are still working off the island , while a fourth is about to start his new job. Manus Island MP Ron Knight said most “freed” detainees were too “wary” to move to the transit centre and expressed concern about their release. “You have young guys locked up for so long, they get involved in consuming home brew, womanising and involved in marijuana offences,” he said, adding island police were “weak”. He said there were cultural differences between locals and detainees, describing the latter as “pretty aggressive peo


Knight’s comments highlight the potential cultural and social problems arising from the release of detainees into the Manus community without appropriate community education and settlement programs.

Human Rights Law Centre director of legal advocacy Daniel Webb, who has visited Manus Island, said the relationships between detainees and islanders were often positive but “when you lock up 900 innocent men on a far flung corner of a remote island for three years”.

“Just flinging the gates open isn’t a solution. These men have spent the last three years of their lives on a painful road to nowhere. The only viable and humane option is to bring them to Australia.”

When Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was asked what measures were being taken to ensure the safety of detainees in the Manus community, he said Manus Island was “an issue for the PNG Government to comment on” - ABC/PNC