Papua New Guinea (PNG) has issued an ultimatum to hundreds of refugees barricaded in Australia’s shuttered refugee detention center on Manus Island, threatening to resort to force if the refugees refuse to leave by Monday.
Canberra declared the camp closed in late October, cutting off water, electricity and food to the unwanted refugees at the notorious camp. The move followed a PNG court ruling that said the imprisonment of refugees there was illegal.
Over the past weeks, the refugees have been living in dire conditions with no power or guards on a limited stockpile of food and water.
More than 600 male refugees living in the facility had until weekend to leave for the new “transition” camps set up on Manus Island. Some 120 men did meet the deadline, but around 400 men have refused to evacuate the facility, saying they will not leave a prison for another.
PNG Immigration Minister Petrus Thomas said in a statement on Sunday that the remaining refugees have until Monday to leave “so that they can have access to basic necessities such as food, water, medical care and security and that the work on decommissioning of the facility can be completed for the PNG defense force to take complete control of their land and property,” Reuters and The Guardian reported.
Thomas threatened to take necessary steps against the refugees if they refuse to move voluntarily to the new facilities prepared for them.
“We will be taking steps with relevant authorities to move the residents based on serious exposure to health risk for the food of everyone that is remaining,” he said.
Reports coming out of the new camps, however, the men who had moved to the centers are grappling with harsh conditions.
Behrouz Boochani, a journalist among the men in the Manus camp, told AFP on Sunday that those remaining are “struggling with starvation” and rationing the little food they were allowed to bring in to the camp.
“The people are saying that we are determined to stay and they feel if (they) leave the prison camp and go to another prison camp (they) will lose everything and their lives,” he added.
Under a controversial refugee policy known as “Sovereign Borders,” Australia banishes any irregular boat arrivals to its two offshore refugee camps in the remote Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru, where the detainees are grappling with dire humanitarian conditions.
Australia has faced harsh international criticism over the eviction process, with the United Nations warning of a “looming humanitarian crisis” on the island.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been trying to send 1,250 refugees to the US in exchange for accepting refugees from Central America.
He rebuffed a proposal from New Zealand to take in 150 of the refugees. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in response, has rebuked Turnbull.