By Taylor Cain
The Manus Island Detention Center in Papua New Guinea was closed by the Australian government on October 31, 2017. Refugees and asylees who traveled to Australia by boat were held in the detention center on Manus Island while their immigration paperwork was processed. The center opened in 2001, closed in 2008, and reopened in 2012, BBC reports.
Australia legally refuses to accept migrants who travel via boat because the government does not want to encourage people to cross the ocean or pay traffickers to smuggle them in, The New York Times said. Instead, migrants who arrive by sea were sent to the center in Papa New Guinea. The Australian government paid Papa New Guinea for housing its refugees and asylees.
Despite Australia’s ownership and control of the camp, and arguably its inhabitants, the Australia Department of Immigration and Boarder Protection said, “the management of refugees and those found not to be refugees are matters for Papua New Guinea”. Papua New Guinea’s largest newspaper, the Post-Courier, responded to the closure with the headline “Manus asylum seekers, refugees left high and dry by Aussies,” adding “Australia yesterday literally abandoned Manus Island in Papua New Guinea causing chaos and confusion”,
The government closed the facility on October 31, shut off power on November 1, began destroying shelters built by the migrants on November 10, and the forcible removal of migrants will begin on November 11.
“Police and immigration destroyed our shelters. Inside the rooms is very hot with power for fans,” an Iranian refugee told The Guardian. “We built these shelters to provide shade and cover from tropical sun and rain”, Officials also destroyed water storage bins, but did not incite violence during the raid. Before the raid, more than 600 migrants refused to leave and barricaded themselves in the facility. After the raid, 60 migrants volunteered to be transported to a new facility, The Guardian said.
Manus Island has been criticized by human rights groups and the international community. The BBC called it “Australia’s Guantanamo,” Since the center reopened in 2013, six people have died, one during a riot. The Australian government paid $53 million in compensation to detainees who sued for abuse, inhumane housing conditions, poor medical treatment, and general fear for their lives.
One of the lawyers told BBC that closing Manus Island is a breach of rights under Papua New Guinea’s constitution. “The men are vulnerable to attacks and physical harm so we are seeking to ensure their constitutional rights are not breached and there is a resumption of the basic necessities of life,” the lawyer said. With the closure, “the men have been dumped on the street, literally. What is going on is unlawful”.
Australia refuses to resettle the migrants in the country due to drowning and human trafficking concerns and Papua New Guinea felt forced to accept the migrants. The policy of detaining migrants who arrive via sea is for their own safety. Refugees and asylees who were detained in the Manus Island Detention Center can resettle in Papua New Guinea, apply to resettle in Cambodia, or request to be transferred to Nauru, BBC News reports.
Although the migrants are trying to settle in Australia, Australia says the welfare of the migrants is Papua New Guinea’s responsibility. Even though Papua New Guinea has pushed back saying that Australia is responsible for the migrants, Papua New Guinea has monitored the situation.
For the migrants that have been detained for years waiting for a chance at resettlement, the closure of the camp is frightening. One migrant told the New York Times, “We are begging for our freedom in a safe nation after more than four year of imprisonment, waiting, feeling lost and drifting in this concentration camp”.