Immigration panic as Manus court challenge looms

April 1, 2016

Refugee Action Coalition released this statement on March 29.

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Meetings in the Manus Island detention centre compounds on March 29 have revealed a series of moves by Australian and PNG Immigration to resolve the detention and resettlement issue before the Supreme Court challenge to the Manus Island detention centre, scheduled for the end of April.

Asylum seekers and refugees were told that all refugee processing will end by March 31; those with negative determinations will have their appeals resolved by June 30; and from April 6, those found to be refugees will be separated from those who have negative determinations.

Those found to be refugees will be housed in Delta and Oscar compounds, while those found not to be refugees will be housed in Mike and Foxtrot compounds. People will be moved forcibly after April 6, but any person who moved earlier will receive 50 points that can be used at the detention centre canteen. Anyone who refuses to move will have their points cut; meaning they will no longer have access to the canteen for supplies or phone cards.

It is rumoured that extra guards have been flown from Australia, but that cannot be confirmed.

Those who have been found to be refugees have also been threatened that they have to accept resettlement in PNG or they will be forcibly removed from PNG, something the government is not able to legally carry out.

It is unclear what the announcement means for the 60-odd people who have refused to accept processing in PNG in protest at being forcibly transported to Manus Island from Australia, where they asked for asylum on arrival.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul said: “There is every sign that PNG Immigration and Australian Immigration are panicked at the possibility that they will lose the Supreme Court challenge to Manus Island detention.

“Immigration routinely makes threats and restricts rights in the effort to force people to leave the detention centre or return to their home countries. The cash offer to 'voluntarily' return home has recently been increased to $10,000 but no-one has accepted it.”

Of the hundreds who have been found to be refugees, only about 60 have been willing to move out of the centre to the so-called transit accommodation at East Lorengau on Manus Island.

One Manus Island refugee told the Refugee Action Coalition: “The message was clear for us — whether you are a refugee or not, they want to clear the detention centre. But there is no safety in PNG.”

Rintoul said: “It is always disappointing to see the Immigration Department inflicting further punishment on asylum seekers and refugees rather than face up to the failure of the offshore detention regime. They are desperate to avoid the consequences of a successful court challenge which could find that the Manus detention centre has never been constitutional and that the human rights of asylum seekers have been breached from day one.”

The announcement has increased tensions at the detention centre. A majority have already decided they will not cooperate with any attempt to force them to move compounds.

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