Refugee advocates fear violence will erupt on Manus Island as the final countdown begins to the closure of an Australian offshore detention centre holding 600 asylum seekers.
The men are refusing to leave the centre at the Lombrum Navy Base despite its planned closure on Tuesday amid fears they won’t be safe at three other facilities they are meant to relocate to in and around the island’s main town of Lorengau.
Many locals in the town have threatened to use violence to stop the asylum seekers relocating, prompting Papua New Guinea authorities to deploy extra police to the island.
The detention centres on Manus, Nauru and PNG are currently home to 1162 asylum seekers
Part of Australia’s regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea will close
Papua New Guinean navy will regain control of current detention centre site on Wednesday
Meanwhile dining facilities at Lombrum have closed, with the asylum seekers now relying on basic food parcels containing muesli bars, muffins, corn flakes and pre-cooked meals they’ve been told will last two days.
Power and water are due to be cut off on Tuesday ahead of PNG’s navy retaking control of the site a day later.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s legal advocacy director Daniel Webb says the situation on Manus is ‘like a powder keg’.
‘There are people who are tense and they are frightened,’ he told AAP on Sunday.
‘The refugees are terrified of violence if they stay inside the detention centre and if they leave.
‘Many local people are angry, particularly at the Australian government, so it’s a disaster waiting to happen.’
Asylum seekers fear for their safety as they may be moved to a non-secure centre in Lorengau
Lorengau locals fear that they will be in danger from the 600 refugees to be resettled in town
Anger has been building among locals at Lorengau over a lack of consultation about the facility to house some of the asylum seekers in a residential area on the town’s outskirts.
Governor of Manus Island Charlie Benjamin has warned that many locals feared they would be in danger and were threatening to arm themselves with knives and other weapons to stop any of the 600 men moving in.
Australia expects the Lombrum centre will close as planned.
‘Everything is proceeding at this point,’ a spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told AAP.
Immigration Department Secretary Michael Pezzullo told a Senate committee last week that it was a matter for the PNG government to decide whether the men would be removed by force.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the closure will go as planned
Immigration Department Secretary Michael Pezzullo said the Papua New Guinea police could decide whether to use force to move the group of refugees from the centre into Lorengau
Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul fears a siege situation could develop at the Lombrum centre ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.
‘There are some indications that locals would attempt to get food and water to them but it’s on a (naval) base so that will mean some kind of confrontation one way or the other,’ he told AAP.
Mr Rintoul said two of the three centres earmarked for the asylum seekers were still not fenced or guarded, raising concerns about their safety.
‘Nobody’s inclined to move,’ he said. ‘They would have transferred a long a time a go if they thought they could be safe.’
The Lombrum centre’s closure was announced after the PNG Supreme Court ruled in April 2016 that Australia’s detention of refugees and asylum seekers there was illegal and unconstitutional.
Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul has warned of a possible siege situation on Tuesday
The locals in Lorengau are angry that they were not consulted about moving the refugees