Papua New Guinea's police commissioner has warned the safety of refugees and workers at the Australian-run Manus Island regional processing centre “is not to be taken for granted” as authorities prepare to shut it down on Tuesday.
Police commissioner Gari Baki in a statement warns there is “tension now being expressed by the locals on Manus” and has appealed to them “not to create uncertainty and let the transfer of the refugees be done as smoothly as possible."
“There is a small disgruntled faction among the refugees at the Lombrum Navy Base who are creating uncertainty among the rest of the refugees,” the statement said.
Papua New Guinea police are on stand-by to “assist” the mobile brigade squads already deployed on Manus Island to “relocate” refugees and asylum seeker from the Australia-run detention centre.
Community meetings on Manus in recent weeks have rejected the relocation of the refugees into transit centres in residential area of the main town of Lorengau and locals have threatened armed blockades, the ABC reported this week from the island.
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 after numerous attacks and robberies in the town.
They allege it is not safe for them in Lorengau saying the PNG police do not take their reports serious and fail to investigate them properly.
The Australian government has previously said law-and-order issues outside the detention centre are a matter for PNG authorities.
Amnesty International has called on PNG and Australia to ensure any stand-off does not descend into violence.
“The authorities have a duty to ensure that the PNG security forces, who already have a chequered history of abuse, refrain from using excessive force,” said Audrey Gaughran, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Issues.
Commissioner Baki’s statement said police would assist the immigration department to move “551 genuine refugees and 167 non-genuine refugees” to transit camps near the island’s main town of Lorengau.
Human Rights Watch yesterday releases a critical report into refugee safety in the community and called on the Australian government to deploy federal police to Manus to advise their PNG counterparts during shutdown
"Police acknowledge escalating tensions with local people on Manus. Forcibly moving refugees and asylum seekers to Lorengau town now will clearly expose them to greater danger," said Elaine Pearson, Australia Director of Human Rights Watch.
"Australia needs to step in and immediately bring these people to safety, and PNG should refuse to shut the main center until Australia does so."
Notices have been placed in the detention centre advising “residents” the canteen will shut on Sunday and food packs distributed on Monday and Tuesday.
“Staying at the RPC (regional processing centre) and eating out of a food pack is your choice [emphasis supplied], services are available at alternative locations, move today to avoid the need for a food pack,” the notice said.
Another notice title “Non-refugee property” warns all items “left at the RPC on 1 November 2017 will be considered rubbish and will be disposed of”.
“Gather your belonging. Pack your bags. Prepare to move,” it reads.
Basic services, power and water to parts of the centre have already been cut and sections demolished.
The Manus detention centre was established in September 2013 but confining refugees and asylum seekers there was declared “illegal” and “unconstitutional” by PNG’s highest court in April last year.