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No end to the cruelty as Manus centre closes

  • 31 October 2017


Yet again, the Manus Island Detention Centre, noted euphemistically as a place where people's credentials before law are processed, is in the news. Since the ruling by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court in April 2016, Australia and PNG officials have been trading shots and views on responsibility for the 718 men on the Lombrum Naval Base. (The current number is closer to 600.)

The closure of the centre, however, is not the end of it. The men are to be moved to purpose-built accommodation in the town of Lorengau. There is both fear and reluctance. The cruelty, in other words, is merely being displaced. 'Essentially', noted Amnesty International Pacific researcher Kate Shuetze, 'there's no plan here for them to be able to rebuilt their lives.' With this has come the unwillingness on the part of local authorities to shoulder the burden.

By the end of Monday, the PNG immigration authorities had issued a notice to those remaining in the centre that it would close by 5pm on Tuesday. 'All power and water will cease. There will be no food supplied — and no dinner service this evening.' There was an ominous tone in the announcement: the site would be converted into an active military base, with the PNG Defence Force moving in, by the end of Tuesday.

Of great concern is the role being played by the PNG mobile squad to enforce the letter of the announcement, an outfit noted for an assortment of human rights abuses and predations, notably when protecting extraction industries in the country.

Previous efforts on the part of the police gave the impression of even-handed neutrality. This was a mess the forces had to navigate. PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki insisted that, 'The safety of both the refugees and government workers plus staff of leading agencies is not to be taken for granted given the tension that is now being expressed by the locals on Manus Island.'

PNG immigration minister Petrus Thomas has more or less claimed that his government will insist on total Australian control over what has become a prolonged humanitarian mess, insisting in a statement that 'PNG has no obligation under the current arrangement to deal with these two cohorts and they remain the responsibility of Australia to pursue third-country options and liaise with respective governments of the non-refugees for their voluntary or involuntary return.'

The most startling aspect to the exercise is the continued nonsense that settlement