'Critical situation' as police storm Manus Island camp to remove refugees

23 November 2017, 03:54

Police have been forcibly removing refugees from an Australian immigration detention camp in Papua New Guinea.

The men had refused to leave the camp on Manus Island, despite it being closed at the end of October on the orders of a PNG court which ruled it unconstitutional.

About 600 men had refused to move to three transition centres on the island, despite the Australian government cutting off water and electricity and food supplies dwindling.

Some of the men eventually agreed to go to the transition centres but almost 400 stayed in the camp.

They said they were worried about hostility from locals, that the new centres were not safe and the water and electricity supply was not good enough.

They had barricaded themselves in the abandoned camp before officials went in.

Tweeting from inside the camp, where he said he was hiding in a toilet, journalist Behrouz Boochani wrote: "(Police) are very aggressive and put our belongings in the rubbish bins.

"The refugees still are silent are watching them so scared.

"We are blockading right now. So many police and immigration officers are around us at this moment.

"They destroyed everything and our belongings and right now are shouting at us to leave the prison camp."

He said two of the refugees needed urgent medical treatment after falling down, describing them as "high risk" and adding: "Too much tension here".

"The refugees are chanting this slogan 'Freedom, Freedom'," he wrote.

A refugee named Abdul Aziz Adam, who said he had been hiding with Mr Boochani, tweeted a photo of him being led away.

The journalist was later released, writing: "They handcuffed me for more than two hours in a place behind the prison camp. The police commander yelled at me 'you are reporting against us.' They pushed me several times and broke my belongings."

Papua New Guinea's police commissioner Gari Baki had said on Tuesday that no force would be used to remove the men from the camp, and that the refugees would be "asked politely to pack up and voluntarily leave the centre".

On Thursday, Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas said 50 police and immigration officials entered the camp and persuaded 35 of the 378 men there to leave for accommodation in the nearby town of Lorengau.

Refugees who try to reach Australia by boat are not allowed to settle in the country, instead being sent to camps offshore, a stance that has been criticised by the UN and human rights organisations.

The Australian government has said this stops migrants dying at sea.

Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: "They think this is some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia.

"Well, we will not be pressured.

"The people on Manus should go to the alternative places of safety with all of the facilities they need."