Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Injunction sought as PNG refugee camp shuts down

‘REALLY SCARED’:Some locals looted the camp, taking away equipment, a refugee said, but an advocate said the looting was minor and that the refugees were safe


Lawyers for the asylum seekers living at Australia’s detention center on Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Manus Island yesterday sought a court injunction to keep the facility open as fears mounted of violence amid reports of looting and rock-throwing by local residents.

Papua New Guinean authorities said they would cut off water, electricity and food supplies to the center inside the Lombrun Navy Base at 5pm yesterday.

The closing date was set after the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court last year ruled that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers there was illegal and unconstitutional.

The 606 men — diverted by Australian authorities to Manus after attempting to reach Australia by boat — have refused to comply with an order to relocate to three nearby facilities, because they say the alternatives are less secure and they fear for their safety amid threats of violence from locals.

However, an hour after the deadline, the utilities had not been cut off, according to refugee advocates.

With the center left unguarded as of yesterday morning, reports emerged of locals, some armed with machetes, looting the facility.

Sudanese refugee Abdul Mohammad said asylum seekers and refugees feared for their lives.

“Some of the locals have come inside and are stealing boxes, fire alarms, the fans — some of them are taking the air conditioners,” he said by telephone from Manus Island.

Bangladeshi refugee Mohammad Ohidul Islam said some locals were throwing rocks at refugees.

“We are really scared,” he said from inside the center.

The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) told reporters that while police were not intervening, the looting was only minor, with electric fans, desks, folding tables and a refrigerator taken from the entrance areas of the center.

“They [looters] can’t get into the detention center proper,” RAC spokesman Ian Rintoul said in Sydney. “The detainees are still secure and that’s what they’ve been concentrating on — that they are secure in case there’s an attack in the middle of the night.”

Rintoul said that he was unaware of any rock-throwing, but that it would “be a long night” for the detainees, who were “very worried they’ll be attacked during the night.”

He said that with detainees likely to run out of drinking water before long, authorities on Manus “could well be deciding they’ll starve the people out over a few days rather than using the police.”

Media reports said about 100 locals rallied in the nearby town of Lorengau yesterday morning, calling for the refugees to be sent to Australia and not brought into their community.

By contrast, some locals had said they would support the detainees if power and water were cut off, Rintoul said.

Lawyers acting for the RAC yesterday applied to the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court for an injunction to prevent the facility’s closure and restore the supply of food, water and electricity, warning of a “catastrophic outcome” if the detainees were evicted.

“We were in a Supreme Court hearing this morning where we’re hopeful of being able to raise the immediate issues of the abuse of human rights on Manus Island,” said Rintoul, who understood the application had been referred to Papua New Guinean Chief Justice Salamo Injia, and that he was “hoping for an urgent hearing” this morning.

Papua New Guinean officials have said the facility will be returned to defense forces today and anyone remaining would be considered to be trespassing on a military base.

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