Warnings of 'looming disaster' in Port Moresby as last asylum seekers to leave Manus Island

In a matter of days, there may be no asylum seekers left on Manus Island.

Asylum seekers leaving Manus Island and the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre.

Asylum seekers leaving Manus Island and the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre. Source: Refugee Action Coalition, AAP

All remaining asylum seekers on Manus Island could be transferred to Port Moresby by Friday, according to an advocacy group.

The Refugee Action Coalition said the last 70 asylum seekers are due to be transferred from Manus to the Papua New Guinea capital over the next two days under an offer from local authorities.

Last month, the remaining asylum seekers on the island were offered the transfer with the promise they would "continue to receive services like those currently available to them".

A file photo of asylum seekers on Manus Island.
A file photo of asylum seekers on Manus Island. Source: Refugee Action Coalition

PNG's Chief Migration Officer Solomon Kantha told SBS News that 34 asylum seekers had travelled to Port Morseby on Thursday and that "more transfers are scheduled".

But the Refugee Action Coalition has raised concerns about the transfer deal, calling it a "looming disaster".

"JDA, the refugee service provider responsible for the transfer, has been unable to provide any details of what services will be available or how they will be able to survive in Port Moresby," the group said in a statement.

"For now, the refugees have been housed in several hotels in Port Moresby – but it is essentially a not-so-gilded cage. Some of the hotels are strictly guarded with restrictions on visitors and strict limits on times allowed out of the hotel."

The notice posted on Manus Island.
The notice posted on Manus Island. Source: Supplied

A spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul, said: "The move is a hasty attempt by Australia and PNG immigration to be seen to 'close Manus detention', but the refugees are not free. They are not safe".

"Immigration is just shifting the detention deckchairs. There are no resettlement arrangements, and nothing in place to meet the high needs of hundreds of people traumatised by six years of brutality on Manus Island."

SBS News has contacted Australia's Department of Home Affairs for comment but did not receive a reply.

On Monday, the PNG Minister for Immigration and Border Security Petrus Thomas confirmed the country was ending the contract with an Australian-backed firm running the camps on Manus.

Mr Thomas described the end of Paladin Holdings' contract to provide security and other services as "the most significant milestone to date in ending regional processing in Manus Province".

A refugee on Manus Island.
A refugee on Manus Island. Source: AAP

"With the end of regional processing, the Manusian community will be able to rebuild their identity separate to this issue," he said.

Mr Thomas said the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre will now be repurposed as a "dedicated education facility for the Manus community".

The East Lorengau Refugee Transit Center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
The East Lorengau Refugee Transit Center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Source: AAP

In its Thursday statement, the Refugee Action Coalition also expressed concern for dozens of asylum seekers in .

"Although many of the 53 have never had refugee determination, they have been deemed to have negative determinations, they have been held incommunicado for over three weeks," it said.

Last week, Mr Kantha said: "those unlawful non-citizens currently detained in the BIC are failed asylum seekers, whose protection claims have been fully assessed and it has been established that they are not owed protection".

"ICA takes the welfare and support of detainees very seriously, with a high standard of health, security and support services provided to those in the Centre," Mr Kantha said.

But he also confirmed "personal mobile devices are a controlled item and are not permitted within the secure Immigration Centre environment".

With additional reporting from AFP.

3 min read
Published 5 September 2019 at 4:14pm
By Nick Baker
Source: SBS News