Fiji security guards headed for Manus as tensions mount over centre's closure

Fiji minister for employment Jone Usamate with men hired by Paladin to work on Manus in Suva Source: Fiji Newswire

Dozens of former Fijian soldiers, police and prison officers have been recruited by a contractor to secure Manus Island in Papua New Guinea after the Australia-run open detention centre officially closes on Tuesday.

Fiji's minister for employment Jone Usamate met in the capital Suva with 42 men hired by the PNG branch of Paladin Solutions before their expected departure next week, once their visas are approved.

PNG's police commissioner Gari Baki has warned that the safety of refugees and workers at the Australian-run regional processing centre "is not to be taken for granted" as authorities prepare to close it.

"Where they are going to work (it's) not an easy situation, but I think the people that have been selected should be able to cope with the given situation," Mr Usamate told a press conference after meeting the recruits on Friday.

"It's going to be a delicate situation that requires finesse and skill. I know that our people that are going there have those qualities."

PNG's immigration and border protection minister Petrus Thomas has told Australia and contractor Paladin Solutions "the government will not support the recruitment of (a) large number of foreign workers particularly for positions that are reserved for nationals and jobs that can be undertaken by locals".

Commissioner Baki said police are on stand-by to "assist" the mobile brigade squads already deployed on Manus to relocate refugees and asylum seekers from the detention centre to so-called "transit centres" in the island's main town of Lorengau. 

About 700 refugees and asylum seekers remain on Manus as Australia moves to end its offshore processing in PNG.

The detention centre was declared "illegal" and "unconstitutional" by the country's highest court in April 2016.

A few dozen refugees and asylum seekers have moved to the East Lorengau Transit Centre, but many are refusing to relocate from the open detention centre on the Lombrum navy base over safety fears, after numerous alleged attacks and robberies in the town.

"There are 42 personnel, partly military, ex-police officers, ex-prison officers, and civilians," Paladin's representative in Fiji Isireli Tamanituakula told local media.

"They have been chosen to serve under Paladin Solutions Papua New Guinea for the task of looking after asylum seekers on Manus Island."

As the closure nears, tensions have been rising on Manus.

At community meetings on the island, residents have rejected the relocation of the large number of refugees into Lorengau and threatened to erect blockades.

Australia’s detention centre has created jobs hundreds Manus islanders but they will disappear with the centre's closure.

"The provincial leaders and local sub-contractors have raised their concerns on the loss of business and employment opportunities and the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority has conveyed the government position to Australian officials and the new contractors Paladin Solutions and NWK Group," PNG's immigration minister warned in a statement on Sunday.

$70m settlement awarded to Manus Island detainees
$70m settlement awarded to Manus Island detainees

"I urge Australia to respect PNG Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority as the implementing agency and work in consultation with them to progress the closure of the MRPC and address landowner and local political sensitivities to see a successful closure of the MRP d (sic) transition arrangements", said Mr Thomas.

Paladin Solutions, a subsidiary of a Paladin in Singapore, on its website says on Manus it has has a joint-venture with "local company Pomwan Paladin to offer jobs and community engagement".

"We provide safety, management and garrison support services to a range of clients in diverse industries. Our solutions are at all times compliant with country-specific regulatory and labour laws.

"Our strong philosophy of equity, dignity and respect is compliant with the Voluntary Principles of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Paladin Solutions has operated projects in remote parts of Papua New Guinea and we understand the potential difficulties that can arise."

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