Why asylum seekers are still in an Australian detention center, even after Australia abandoned it

Asylum seekers in the former Manus Island detention centre. (Source: ManusAlert via Telegram)
  • Asylum seekers and refugees have allegedly been stabbed, beaten and robbed in Papua New Guinea, where they are being forced to leave a former detention center they have lived in for years.
  • Australia established the offshore processing center to discourage asylum seekers from taking dangerous boat trips, but officials have been forced to leave due to local laws.
  • The remaining men are scared for their lives and have few options.

More than 400 asylum seekers and refugees still lived in a former Australian detention center in Papua New Guinea when it was stormed by local police on Thursday.

The refugees have been urged to move to other centres but are worried for their safety. Instead, many have chosen to remain at the center they have been forced to live in for years.

In September, Human Rights Watch reported that several men who had left the center had been stabbed, beaten, and robbed.” Some men were too scared to leave the center to even talk to people representing Human Rights Watch.

In 2012, Australia recommenced offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrived by boat, to dissuade human traffickers and prevent hundreds from drowning at sea, and promised to never settle them in Australia.

Detainees were split between centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and the country of Nauru. But last month, Australian officials left the Manus Island regional processing center, after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court found the facility illegal in a 2016 ruling.

The center closed on October 31 and officials urged a small number of refugees to “apply” for a transfer to the detention center in Nauru and for the remaining men to return home or move to one of three transit centres near Lorengau, the main town on Manus Island, only one of which is reported to have medical facilities.

Because of attacks, and despite them, asylum seekers feel safer where they are

After reports of locals with machetes looting the center and attacking refugees on the island, many residents felt it was safer to stay where they are – even though food, water, and electricity are no longer provided.

“The police already, they beat some of the refugees and the local people. They attack the refugees and rob them. This place is not a safe place,” Behrouz Boochani‏, a journalist and asylum seeker on Manus Island who was reportedly arrested on Thursday, recently told the ABC.

Visiting Manus Island in September, Human Rights Watch reported nearly every refugee and asylum seeker who was interviewed had experienced or witnessed violence.

The men reported having knives put to their throats, slashed wrists, fractured skulls and even being arrested for disturbing locals after being attacked. Assailants used knives, machetes, sticks, screwdrivers, and sometimes threw rocks.

In 2014, locals attacked the center and killed one refugee, and injured 51. And earlier this year drunk soldiers from Papua New Guinea’s Defence Forces rammed the center and fired more than 100 shots, including from an M-16 assault rifle, into the center. The men feared for their lives.

Now locals are also angry that there was no consultation regarding the centres that were built in residential areas.

According to the Australian Associated Press, the Governor of Manus Island said locals fear they too will be in danger, so they have armed themselves with knives and other weapons as a precaution.

Few options on the outside

After promising to never resettle asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia, the federal government approached 30 countries to create a third country arrangement. Only three – the US, New Zealand and Cambodia – have offered resettlement.

However, far fewer people have been relocated than hoped.

Despite a $AU55 million ($US42 million US) deal, Cambodia resettled only a handful of refugees and a top government official admitted the country doesn’t have appropriate social programs to support them.

New Zealand recently offered to accept a number of refugees, but Australia’s Immigration Minister said such a deal would “start the boats.”

The US was expected to take up to 1,250 refugees under an Obama-era agreement. However, when President Donald Trump came into office, he called the deal “dumb.”

So far, the US has agreed to resettle 54 refugees, but those on Manus Island are yet to be relocated.