Papua New Guinea (PNG) says it will close the Australian-funded asylum seeker camp on Manus Island after a court ruled that holding refugees in the facility was unconstitutional and illegal.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said in a statement on Wednesday that the government would shut down the facility, which is being used to detain some 850 asylum seekers who sought to reach Australia by boat.
The decision came a day after the Supreme Court ruled that the detention was in breach of the right to personal liberty enshrined in the country’s constitution.
“Respecting this ruling, Papua New Guinea will immediately ask the Australian government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum-seekers currently held at the Regional Processing Center,” O’Neill said.
Australia has been under pressure from international rights groups and UN agencies for its asylum policies that send boat refugees to remote processing centers on Manus Island and Nauru, with no chance of being settled on the Australian territory.
Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the PNG court ruling would not change the country’s border protection policy. He added that none of the refugees on Manus would be able to come to Australia and they should either return to their home countries or settle in a third country.
The PNG premier invited the “legitimate refugees” to live in his country if they like to stay there.
“It is clear that several of these refugees do not want to settle in Papua New Guinea and that is their decision,” O’Neill also said.
He said his government will begin negotiations with Canberra about the time frame for closing the facility and managing the settlement of those refugees interested in living in PNG.
A second hearing will be held in PNG later this week concerning the immediate fate of the 850 detained refugees.
Refugees’ lawyers will argue that the detainees should be transferred to Australia and be compensated for their detention.
Australia has also an arrangement with Cambodia to resettle legitimate refugees. Local media reported that Canberra has been holding talks with Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to make necessary deals for the settlement of refugees.
Refugees suicide attempts
Dutton also said on Wednesday that a 23-year-old refugee from Iran set himself on fire earlier in the day during a visit by UN officials to Nauru camp.
“He’s in a very serious condition and the plan is to provide an air-lift for him later tonight but he is in a very, very serious condition and his outlook is not good at all,” he added.
He did not give any reason for the self-immolation, but the situation of the camps, the pacific islands’ weather conditions as well as uncertainty about the future have led many asylum seekers to commit suicide in Australian-run facilities.
The Refugee Action Coalition also said that four others attempted suicide on Tuesday by drinking washing liquid. The activist group said the four were treated in Nauru.
Dutton insisted that those refugees who are transferred to Australia for medical purposes would not be able to stay there.
“What we’ve been very clear about is that if people come to Australia for medical assistance they’ll be returning back to Nauru once that medical assistance has been provided,” he added.