offshore detention

Manus Island Is Closing But There’s Nowhere to Go

The plan is to demolish most of the detention compound by the end of the month. There's no solid plan for the detainees.

by Katherine Gillespie
16 May 2017, 1:35am

Image of Manus Island Detention Centre via Google Maps

Australia's offshore detention centre on Manus Island is finally shutting down for good. The first compound on will be demolished on May 28, Papua New Guinea officials told detainees yesterday, and the centre will close completely by the end of October. No detainees will be resettled in Australia, so for those who aren't being relocated to the US, the future looks very uncertain.

The Guardian reports that Manus Island's Foxtrot compound will be the first one demolished later this month and detainees will be forced to move either into the PNG community or the island's temporary East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre. The third option—the one the Australian government would prefer—is to return home. Those asylum seekers who accept this option will be offered up to $20,000 in financial assistance from the government.

Of course, returning home to a war-torn country is an unappealing option regardless of the financial incentives. And a vast majority of the men on Manus have been formally classified as legitimate refugees. One detainee, former Iranian journalist Behrooz Boochani, wrote in a Facebook status yesterday that he's deeply concerned about what will happen next.

"The past few days the Deputy Commissioner of the Australian Border Force was visiting Manus and the facilities," Boochani wrote. "The Australian government wants to implement this policy in spite of the serious resistance from local people who are strongly against the decision to take more people into their community. Mr Ronny Knight, the Manusian MP, has already warned both the Australian and PNG governments that local people won't accept this decision."

Boochani, who received positive refugee status in April 2016, suggested that the Australian government was playing mindgames with the detainees on Manus. "Refugees are asking for freedom in a safe place, and it seems the Australian government is trying to trick people for political reasons, telling them and the media that they will close the prison and it will not be true. They cannot solve the problem by sending people to Lorengau town. Also it is unavoidable that the refugees will resist and the government knows that well. I'm sure they will threaten people to accept this decision. We should wait to know more. But it appears again that there is not any law for protecting the refugees and there is not any justice," he wrote.

The 850 detainees on Manus have been living in an increased state of uncertainty since April last year, when Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island breached the nation's constitutional right to personal liberty, and was therefore illegal. Since then the Australian Government has been adamant they're not coming here, but has been unable to find some other place to send them.

In March, Papua New Guinea's Chief Justice told its Supreme Court that because detainees now have some freedom of movement within the navy base it is housed within, the Manus detention centre is technically closed. Even though the same 850 people are still living in it.

US officials have been slowly vetting detainees over the past couple of months as part of the controversial Obama-Turnbull refugee swap deal, but it's still unknown how many will be relocated there.

Follow Kat on Twitter

Manus Island
offshore processing
Peter Dutton
Behrooz Boochani