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PNG gives Manus refugees 48 hours to relocate or be 'removed by force'

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Authorities in Papua New Guinea have given asylum seekers occupying the closed Manus Island detention centre 48 hours to leave the site or face a forced removal.

Hundreds of asylum seekers who remain in the closed Manus Island detention centre are now at great risk of attack, according to the Refugee Action Coalition.

This afternoon, government workers began dismantling protective fences around the Mike compound, something Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition describes as a form of psychological torture.

"Removing the fence around Mike shows the contempt that the Australian and the PNG governments have for the security of refugees who are in their care and need protection. Defenceless people just became more vulnerable," he said.

The official warning to leave the premises came in the form of a two-page letter distributed to men in the camp about 11am local time on Thursday. 

About 600 men are refusing to leave the centre which officially closed last week when power, water and food services were cut off.

The stand-off now threatens to escalate into violence with the PNG authorities warning "force may be used to relocate those who refuse to move voluntarily".

"You cannot continue to remain here in this condition. It is very bad for your health and well-being if you continue to refuse to move to your new accommodation where there is food, water, electricity and other services," the letter, which was authorised by an official from the Papua New Guinea Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority, said.

"Demolition of fences will commence today and your security and safety here is not guaranteed... This land will revert to [defence force control] and if you still remain here after demolition of the fences, you will be deemed to be unlawfully on a military base and will face eviction or arrest and prosecution."

The letter continued: "If necessary, force may be used to relocate those who refuse to move voluntarily for your own sake."

The letter detailed the services PNG says are available for refugees at East Lorengau Transit Centre and Camp 300, saying all necessary services would be provided - including security and regular police presence "to ensure your safety is guaranteed".

photo of manus letter
Photos of the letter handed to refugees on Manus Island on Thursday November 9 2017.
SBS News

Non-refugees are to move to the Hillside Haus where they "will be given three meals a day" and a shared room. 

The letter also referred to the PNG Supreme Court's November 7 decision to reject an application by refugee Behrouz Boochani which sought an interim injunction to stop the relocation of the men, saying, "You have no legal basis to remain in this compound." 

Mr Boochani, a refugee on Manus Island who has reported on the men's plight on social media and elsewhere, said they were still refusing to leave after receiving the notice.

"The refugees are extremely scared by immigration threat but still saying we will not leave this prison camp for another prison camp," he wrote on Twitter. 

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said in a statement on Wednesday the centre had fulfilled its purpose to process asylum claims and it was time for the men to move onto new accommodation facilities. 

"The centre will not be reopened and it will be returned to its former function as a defence force facility," he said.

It came just hours after activists attempted to scale the Opera House in Sydney to draw attention to the "humanitarian crisis" on Manus Island.

Greens Immigration spokesman Senator Nick McKim blamed Australia's immigration minister Peter Dutton for what he called the threats against the detainees. 

"The instructions for this threat have no doubt come directly from Dutton's office. These men are Australia's responsibility and remain so. 

"Lives are now at risk because of Dutton's escalation of a humanitarian emergency of his very own making." 

Full statement from Nick McKim

Threats of using force against detainees at the Manus Island detention centre are unprecedented and potentially highly dangerous, Greens Immigration spokesperson Nick McKim says.

“The instructions for this threat have no doubt come directly from Dutton’s office,” Senator McKim, who is in Papua New Guinea, said.

“These men are Australia’s responsibility and remain so. They are in Maclolm Turnbull’s care as he proved when he knocked back New Zealand’s offer to resettle some of the men.”

“Lives are now at risk because of Dutton’s escalation of a humanitarian emergency of his very own making.”

“If people are hurt or worse their blood will be on the hands of Peter Dutton and Malcom Turnbull. The men on Manus must be evacuated to safety immediately.”

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