Story highlightsPNG police, immigration officers have mounted an operation in shuttered Manus refugee campCamp was closed at the end of October; around 400 asylum seekers remain on the site
(CNN)A police operation is underway on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to try and remove up to 400 refugees from a recently shut down detention center for people seeking asylum in Australia, according to PNG police and Australia’s immigration minister.
About 40 police officers and 10 PNG immigration officials went to the center on Thursday morning to try to convince the remaining refugees and asylum seekers — all men — to move out of the facility, Dominic Kakas, Chief Superintendent of PNG Police told CNN. He described the asylum seekers as being “rowdy” but said officials were not using force against them. However, asylum seekers inside the facility allege police and immigration officials were being heavy handed.The detention center was officially closed on October 31, and the estimated 400 refugees and asylum seekers who refused to move out have been surviving on rainwater and food that they have been able to smuggle in. They say new facilities aren’t safe.Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Australian Radio Station 2GB Thursday that a police operation was taking place and that he was keen for people to move out of the center. Read More”I think it’s outrageous that people are still there. They have trashed the facility, they are living in squalor and the Australian taxpayer has paid about 10 million dollars for a new facility and we want people to move,” Dutton told 2BG Radio on Thursday. “Under no circumstance will these people be coming to Australia and that’s a final decision.”Kakas said that 35 refugees had voluntarily moved to the new facilities following the police action Thursday.Damaged property in the Manus island refugee camp on Thursday November 23. Asylum seekers who remain in the shuttered camp claim that police caused the damage.DamageLast month, PNG’s Supreme Court rejected an application that would have seen food and water provided to the refugees and asylum seekers who’ve been without adequate provisions since its closure. A video sent to CNN by an asylum seeker from Pakistan named Naeem ud Din showed destroyed furniture littered throughout the detention center. He said officials were responsible for the destruction.One asylum seeker at the facility, Walid Zazai, tweeting from the camp, alleged men were beaten. “We can’t take pictures or video. Whole area surrounded by them. When they see anyone filming they catch him, beat him and take him,” he wrote, apparently referring to the PNG authorities.
— Walid Zazai (@ZazaiWalid) November 23, 2017 Kakas denied the allegations of violence.”What you hear is rubbish,” he told CNN. “There are 50 of us and 400 of them, how can we use force?”He says no property was destroyed or damaged.Kakas insisted officials were only talking to the asylum seekers to convince them to move out. Refugees remaining in the center have been asked to move to two other locations — the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Center or West Lorengau House — both provided by the Australian government at a cost of up to $190 million (A$250 million dollars) a year. Asylum seekers who haven’t been found to be refugees are being asked to move to a third location, Hillside House.The men say their safety is at risk at all three centers, which they claim don’t offer the same level of security as the fenced detention center.A recent report from Human Rights Watch said the men had been “frequently assaulted” by “groups of local young men, often intoxicated and sometimes armed with sticks, rocks, knives, or screwdrivers.”Opinion: Why the Manus Island crisis won’t change Australia’s refugee policyTurnbull: ‘We will not be pressured’At a press conference Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged those remaining at the shuttered facility to “leave and go to the alternative accommodation that has been provided,” and added that the men should “obey the law and the lawful authorities of Papua New Guinea.”Refugees, photographed on November 23, who have remained at the Manus island refugee camp following its closure on October 31, 2017.He added that the protest would not sway Australian authorities into changing immigration policy to admit the protesting men. “We will not be pressured… our border security, the integrity of our borders is maintained by my government, it is maintained by my government and we will not outsource our migration policy to people smugglers.”The facilities maintained in PNG were set up with the cooperation of Australian authorities, and the center was originally opened in 2001 as part of then-Prime Minister John Howard’s “Pacific Solution,” to process asylum seekers in offshore facilities. Conditions at the center have been the subject of a number of damning reports from human rights advocates, including the United Nations.Offshore facilityThe detention center was originally used to process people looking for asylum in Australia between 2001 and 2008. It was reopened in 2012 after a rise in the number of boat arrivals off Australia’s shores. People living in the center who were deemed to be refugees have been asked to move to two other locations in PNG. Asylum seekers who haven’t been found to be refugees are being asked to move to a third location.
CLARIFICATION ON MANUS: The AFP has no member within the former Manus Regional Processing Centre and no involvement in today’s actions. The AFP has a liaison officer in Manus Province working in an advisory and mentoring capacity to the RPNGC on policing matters.
— AFP (@AusFedPolice) November 22, 2017 But all the men who remain who remain in the compound say their safety is at risk at all three locations. They claim the facilities do not offer the same level of security as the detention center.A tweet from the Australian Federal Police said that no member of its force was present during today’s operations.