HELEN DAVIDSON | Guardian Australia
THE immigration detention centre on Manus Island will close, and the Australian government has been requested to find alternative arrangements for its detainees, the Papua New Guinean prime minister has announced.
Peter O’Neill’s announcement follows a ruling by the PNG supreme court yesterday that the detention of asylum seekers and refugees was illegal and unconstitutional, and it ordered the governments of Australia and PNG to immediately move to end the practise.
“Respecting this ruling, Papua New Guinea will immediately ask the Australian government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers currently held at the regional processing centre,” O’Neill said.
“As I stated recently at the at the Australian Press Club, we did not anticipate the asylum seekers to be kept as long as they have at the Manus centre.”
A number of people deemed to be refugees and settled in the PNG community have sought to return to detention for safety and security. Other asylum seekers have refused to submit their claim.
“For those that have been deemed to be legitimate refugees, we invite them to live in Papua New Guinea only if they want to be a part of our society and make a contribution to our community,” said O’Neill.
“It is clear that several of these refugees do not want to settle in Papua New Guinea and that is their decision.”
The announcement puts the ball back in Australia’s court, after the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, sought to distance his government from the supreme court decision by saying it was only binding on PNG.
“The government’s position is very clear, and that is we are not going to accept people who have sought to come to our country illegally by boat, they will not settle permanently in our country,” he said just a short time before O’Neill’s announcement.
“The court decision is binding on the PNG government, but not on the Australian government, so we will work with the PNG government to look at the situation, to provide what assistance we can, but we are not going to allow people smugglers to get back into business.”
PNG will negotiate with Australia over a timeframe for closure of the centre, which O’Neill predicted would have a detrimental effect on the Manus economy. He said he would work with Australia to minimise damage to local businesses.