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Sunday 25 August 2019

500 asylum seekers stay in Papua New Guinea camp

Asylum seekers protest against the possible closure of their detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (AP)
Asylum seekers protest against the possible closure of their detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (AP)

More than 500 asylum seekers remain in a decommissioned Australian immigration camp in Papua New Guinea, despite a court ruling that authorities no longer need to supply power, food and water.

The camp inside a Manus Island navy base was declared closed on October 31, based on the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court's ruling last year that Australia's policy of housing asylum seekers there was unconstitutional.

However, the men who have stayed at the male-only camp on Lombrun Navy Base fear for their safety in the alternative shelters available in the nearby town of Lorengau because of threats from local residents.

Papua New Guinea police chief superintendent Dominic Kakas said that by Wednesday, 38 asylum seekers had left the camp since the Supreme Court rejected an application to restore basic services on human rights grounds.

That meant 54 asylum seekers of the 606 in the camp had left since the camp officially closed in October, Mr Kakas said.

He added that authorities are hoping that in the next couple of days or so, the remainder will leave.

Australian immigration and border protection minister Peter Dutton rejected security concerns about the Lorengau premises, a 30-minute drive from the naval base.

For four years, Australia has paid Papua New Guinea, its nearest neighbour, and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru to house asylum seekers who attempt to reach the Australian coast by boat.

They include Rohingya Muslims from Burma, Afghans, Iranians, Sri Lankans and other nationalities.

Australia has recognised that many of the asylum seekers are refugees who cannot return to their homelands, but it refuses to resettle anyone who tried to reach the country by boat in a policy it credits with dissuading such dangerous ocean crossings.

Some whose refugee claims were denied have been forcibly sent home.

The United States has resettled 54 of them in recent weeks and is considering taking almost 1,200 more.


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