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Refugees on Manus Island fear for their lives as the closing detention centre is looted by locals

31 October 2017 2:36 AM
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Refugees on Manus Island fear for their lives as the closing detention centre is looted by locals

MANUS Island refugees have reported fearing for their lives after armed locals broke into the detention centre, which is set to be shut down tonight.

Sudanese refugee Abdul Mohammad says the asylum seekers and refugees remaining in the Papua New Guinea centre fear for their lives.

“Some of the locals have come inside and are stealing boxes, fire alarms, the fans, some of them are taking air conditioners,” he told AAP from Manus Island.

A number of men detained in the facility, who are refusing to leave ahead of its closure tonight, have told Fairfax Media locals are “taking whatever they can”.

“When I see this, I ask myself ‘Wow, this is Australia, this really happens to you in Australia’.”

“When we approached them they started swearing [at] us and using abusive words. We care about our safety, so we just said ‘Just take whatever you want,” he told Fairfax media.

All staff have now left the property, according to Greens senator Nick McKim.

Senator McKim, who is on Manus for the closure, has now been given permission to visit the facility and will arrive there shortly.

Earlier, he released a statement saying he had no doubt the situation was a humanitarian crisis.

“The reason these men are refusing to leave the detention centre, despite having no access to water in the soaring heat, is the very real threat of violence facing them if they do,” he said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to bring the men to Australia immediately.

“We are watching this crisis develop in slow motion and in full view of the global community,” Senator Di Natale said.

“This government will be responsible if things escalate and people are hurt or more lives are lost.”

The news comes as Manus Island detainees have launched an eleventh-hour legal bid to prevent the closure of Australia’s offshore immigration centre, citing humanitarian concerns as utilities are cut off.

Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers are refusing to leave the camp at the Lombrum Navy Base in Papua New Guinea for fear of their safety outside. Food packs were last distributed on Sunday night and detainees are using bins and other objects to catch rain water, with running water and power to be cut off on Tuesday evening.

Lawyers for the roughly 600 men in detention lodged a Supreme Court application in PNG on Tuesday, arguing the group’s constitutionally protected human rights were being breached by the removal of basic services.

Detainees fear they will not be safe at three other facilities they are meant to relocate to around the island’s main town of Lorengau, after locals threatened to use violence to stop them from moving.

Extra PNG police and defence forces have been flown into Manus ahead of the closure deadline.

Local media have reported PNG Immigration Minister Petrus Thomas as saying the detainees won’t be forced to leave the detention centre.

But Amnesty International’s Kate Schuetze, who is on Manus Island to observe the closure, said PNG police and defence forces had a chequered history of violence against refugees.

Ms Schuetze pointed to the Good Friday shooting, when nine people were injured after PNG military personnel opened fire on the Manus Island centre.

“We have to exercise a degree of caution today and look beyond what the PNG government says and to what they’re actually doing on the ground,” Ms Schuetze told AAP on Tuesday.

“There is a real concern that they’ve got a strong presence on the ground, that they’re heavily armed here, and that’s building the fear of asylum seekers and refugees as to what may happen.” Overnight, detainees secured damaged perimeter fencing around the compound as they prepared to barricade themselves inside.

As they did, PNG immigration officials plastered notices up around the centre urging detainees to leave before utilities were cut off and the site was returned to PNG defence forces.

“Anyone choosing to remain here will be liable for removal from an active PNG military base.” However, two-of-the-three alternative centres earmarked for detainees are still not fenced or guarded.

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan said the government’s first priority was blocking anyone who arrived “illegally” from settling in Australia. “These people were advised in May that this centre would be closed,” Senator Ryan told Sky News.

“I also note that some of the people and activists complaining about being moved from Manus Island were also people complaining about the facility there.” PNG’s government on Monday warned Australia it would take no responsibility for “non-refugees” and people who refused to settle in PNG, saying they were the obligation of the Australian government.

The Lombrum centre was forced to close after the PNG Supreme Court ruled in April 2016 that Australia’s detention of refugees and asylum seekers there was illegal and unconstitutional.

Six detainees have died on Manus Island — including one who was murdered — since the offshore detention centre was reopened in 2012.

World Vision chief advocate Tim Costello urged the government to evacuate detainees to Australia, warning of further bloodshed.

Source: news.com.au

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