World View: A ‘Powder Keg’ as Australia Closes Refugee Camp and Refugees Refuse to Leave

Asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea's Manus Island camp are barred from settling in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees

This morning’s key headlines from

  • A ‘powderkeg’ as Australia closes refugee camp and refugees refuse to leave
  • Australia and Papua New Guinea unable to agree on the future of the refugees

A ‘powderkeg’ as Australia closes refugee camp and refugees refuse to leave

Protesters in Australia's PNG Manus Island refugee center (AAP)
Protesters in Australia’s PNG Manus Island refugee center (AAP)

About 600 male refugees inside a refugee center on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are barricading themselves inside, refusing the leave, as Australia and PNG attempt to shut down the center on Tuesday.

The men are refusing to relocate to other to other more residential facilities in PNG, saying that they fear violence by the locals.

Starting in 2013, Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rudd announced that any asylum seeker who arrives by boat without a visa will have “no chance” of being resettled there as a refugee. Australia intercepted refugees who tried to reach the country by boat and sent them to offshore refugee centers. Under an agreement with the respective countries, men have been sent to Manus Island in PNG, while men, women, and children have been sent to refugee centers on Nauru.

From the point of view of meeting its objective, the policy has been successful. While there had previously been tens of thousands of “boat people” per year arriving in Australia, that number has been reduced to almost none, because refugees know that they will be transferred to one of the offshore detention centers.

However, the policy has been extremely controversial and opposed by humanitarian organizations, who claim that the refugee centers in PNG and Nauru are filthy and unsafe, with numerous stories of beatings, torture and sexual abuse.

Australia’s refugee policy was thrown into chaos in May of last year when the PNG Supreme Court ruled that PNG’s Manus Island refugee center was inhumane, and had to be shut down. After months of finger-pointing between PNG and Australia, the Manus Island refugee center is officially closed as of Tuesday, November 1.

However, the refugees have barricaded themselves into the center and are refusing to leave. In order to force them to leave, food, water, electricity, and sanitation will no longer be provided to the center after Tuesday. At some point, police try to forcibly remove them.

This situation is being described as a “powder keg.” All along, there has been sporadic violence between the refugees in the center and between the refugees and locals. According to some reports, handsome young male refugees from the center and attractive young girls from the neighborhoods have formed secret relationships, with violence breaking out when the girls’ families discover what’s going on.

So now refugees are being asked to relocate to refugee centers in residential neighborhoods, and are refusing to leave because a number of PNG locals have threatened violence against anyone moving into their neighborhoods. Reuters and Sydney Morning Herald and Post Courier (PNG) and Radio New Zealand

Australia and Papua New Guinea unable to agree on the future of the refugees

When the PNG Supreme Court issued its ruling last year, Australia issued a statement saying that PNG was responsible for the health and welfare of the refugees after they leave the refugee center. On Saturday, PNG’s government issued a statement saying Australia was completely responsible. Humanitarian groups are demanding that the refugees all be relocated to Australia, something that’s opposed by Australian government officials, who fear that such a move would trigger a new flood of boat people arriving in Australia.

As usual, money is a large part of the motivating factor here. In May, the Australian government confirmed that it had spent A$4.89 billion (US$3.83 billion) on its Nauru and PNG Manus operations since 2012. Thus, the refugee centers have been a valuable source of income to the two countries involved, and they do not wish to lose it. So few people in PNG’s government are suggesting that the refugees simply be shipped back to Australia.

Under Australia’s agreement with PNG, Australia is financially responsible for food, services, and healthcare. These financial obligations will continue, even if the refugee center is closed. However, the contractors providing the services will be under contract to PNG rather than to Australia. Estimates are that Australia will pay $150-$250 million per year.

In a statement Saturday by PNG’s immigration minister:

It is PNG’s position that as long as there is one individual from this arrangement that remains in PNG, Australia will continue to provide financial and other support to PNG to manage the persons transferred under the arrangement until the last person leaves or is independently resettled in PNG.

PNG has offered refugees the option of resettlement but will not force refugees who do not wish to settle in the country … they remain the responsibility of Australia.

As of the date of closing of the camp, there is no agreement on what will happen to the refugees. Some may be granted refugee status and remain, others will be refused and will be deported back to their home countries. Some will be transferred to other refugee centers on PNG, and others will be transferred to Nauru.

Some may be transferred to third countries. In November of last year, President Barack Obama and Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull signed an agreement to allow 1,250 refugees being held in the offshore detention centers to be resettled in the United States. President Donald Trump reluctantly agreed to honor the deal, but so far only 54 refugees have been transferred to the United States.

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, the rapid worldwide growth in the number of refugees and displaced persons is one of the main factors leading to the next major wars in the world. The Crisis Group estimated a year ago that there were 65 million such people, mostly from war regions in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and South Sudan. Sydney Morning Herald and Crisis Group and Asian Age and Guardian (London)

Related Articles

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Australia, Papua New Guinea, PNG, Manus Island, Nauru island, Kevin Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan
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