AUSTRALIA and Papua New Guinea are escalating efforts to clear the Manus Island detention centre, telling refugees they must settle elsewhere in PNG, while warning they are preparing to deport asylum seekers whose protection claims fail.
“There is no future for you here,” detainees have been told by PNG immigration officials. Processing at the detention centre “will end soon” and all those held within forced out. The police will be sent in to forcibly move those who refuse to cooperate.
Of the men on Manus Island who have had their claims processed, 541 out of 551 – 98% –have been found to be refugees and are legally owed protection, according to Australian immigration department figures.
Only 10 have been found not to have a valid claim to protection on the basis of a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their homeland.
Australia has not found a third country in which to resettle the refugees.
A four-page “communication guide” given to Manus Island detainees on Tuesday tells them “there is no future for you here”:
The purpose of this centre is for refugee status processing. All processing will end soon
If you are a refugee, you can either settle in PNG or depart from PNG to any country where you have a right to live
If you are not a refugee, you can either voluntarily depart from PNG to any country where you can have a right to live
The police may direct the movement of those who refuse to cooperate
Those found to be refugees will be moved to Foxtrot compound. Those with a ‘negative’ assessment will be moved to Mike.
The document hints at “changes to the services and conditions” for the different groups.
Those inside the detention believe those found not to be refugees will have their conditions significantly worsened in an effort to encourage them to leave. Their rights to limited movement, and their ability to access cigarettes, phone credit at the internal store, are expected to be cut.
“We will give you further information about these changes soon,” the document says.
The inducements for people to leave PNG – in the form of cash payments – have been raised, reportedly up to $20,000, though this is denied by the immigration department.
“Recently, the amount of reintegration assistance has increased,” the document says. All of this money is paid by Australia.
The document repeats, at several points, “No one will be transferred to Australia when the centre closes.”
The PNG supreme court ruled in April that the ongoing detention of asylum seekers – including those found not to be refugees – was “illegal and unconstitutional”. Four months later, the detention centre remains in operation, but both the PNG and Australian governments have vowed it will close.
Despite Australia’s declared intention of finding a third-country for refugees it currently holds on Manus Island and Nauru, none has been found for those on Manus.
The $40m Cambodia solution, which has only resettled one person, is not available to those held on Manus.
“No other countries have settlement agreements for refugees from this centre,” the document says. “You are free to apply for a visa to any country and to travel to a country where you have the right to enter and reside. You will not be permitted to settle in Australia.”
Efforts to resettle refugees in PNG have foundered. PNG told the UN last week more than 70 people had been resettled but the Guardian understands this figure includes refugees with severe medical conditions who have been moved to a Port Moresby hotel so they can access the capital’s hospital. They remain dependent on Australian government-funded support.
Fewer than 20 have successfully found houses and ongoing employment.
Many of those who were moved, mostly to Lae, have been assaulted, robbed and, in one case, left sleeping on the streets. Several have travelled back to Manus and tried to break back into detention.
Moving to other countries would also seem to be almost impossible: the travel documents issued by PNG to refugees have proven inadequate to gain any visa to any other country. Many of the documents issued have been valid only for a month, after which refugees are left without a legal right to reside even in PNG.