THE imminent closure of the Manus Island detention centre has sparked fears for the future of the asylum seekers living at the facility with a standoff between detainees, authorities and the local community now looming.
While Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed the government wants to close the entire centre by October 31, A letter given to the detainees states that one part of the facility will be shut by May 28 and another section by June 30.
It comes as the Turnbull government concedes it still does not know how many asylum seekers would be relocated to the United States under the controversial resettlement deal once labelled ‘dumb’ by President Donald Trump.
“Once closed, electricity will be turned off and your belongings will be relocated. The area will be locked and no one will be permitted to enter,” the letter, from PNG’s immigration authority, states.
Asylum seekers who stay in PNG will either be transferred to another temporary refugee transit centre or moved to accommodation in the community, it states.
Those who have not been found to be refugees – about 400 people according to Mr Dutton – can either return to their home country, with a $20,000 resettlement package, or will be ‘removed from PNG by the government of PNG’ without any assistance.
“You cannot stay in the regional processing centre. You need to consider your options. No one will be resettled in Australia,” a PNG official tells the detainees in a recording sent to The New Daily.
The centre’s closure was prompted by a PNG Supreme Court decision that ruled the detention centre’s operation was illegal.
While the US government has planned to accept as many as 1250 refugees, the ‘extreme vetting’ measures implemented by Mr Trump mean it is unclear how many the Americans will actually accept.
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Dutton was unable to say how many of the approximately 800 asylum seekers on the island would be relocated to the US, but conceded there ‘may be a small number’ of detainees who aren’t accepted by the US, despite having been deemed eligible for asylum by Australia.
The US government was ‘putting no roadblocks in the way’ and was ‘working conscientiously in the spirit of the deal’, he said.
News that detainees would be taken out of the centre has fuelled fears for their safety due to tensions between locals and asylum seekers.
Last month, members of the PNG defence force stormed the detention centre, firing shots into the facility.
The island’s MP, Ronny Knight, has said residents would not accept the detainees to the community and predicted that ‘disgruntled locals’ would ‘retaliate’.
Mr Knight has said the ‘crammed’ transit centre, where some asylum seekers are already living, is significantly overcrowded.
One asylum seeker told The New Daily: “The mood here is not good. People are terrified about the move.”
Another detainee, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, said the situation was dire.
“The refugees don’t want to live in PNG but the government wants to force them to live here,” he said.
“Also the local people don’t want the refugees in their small community because they are with a small population and traditional culture. This country does not have enough capacity to accept refugees.”
That incident led to a war of words between Mr Dutton and PNG authorities after the Minister contradicted local police over the cause of the incident.
An Amnesty International report, released this week, found the Turnbull government had downplayed the danger faced by detainees. The government had said shots were fired in the air, not into the centre.