Hundreds of refugees emptied from Australian detention camp in PNG

Vastavam web: Papua New Guinea police have emptied a shuttered Australian detention camp where hundreds of refugees were holed up in, police said today, ending a three- week-old standoff.The police operation, which started yesterday and saw 50 men removed from the closed, Australia-run centre, resumed this morning with a fresh push to take the remaining 320 detainees to new, PNG-run transit centres.Video and photos posted by the refugees on social media showed uniformed police swinging and poking long metal poles at detainees and dragging them from their rooms towards buses bound for the transition centres elsewhere on Manus.

Police, engaged in an operation they dubbed “Helpim Friends”, had vowed not to use force against the refugees, who have been refusing to leave the camp since Australia declared it closed on October 31.He also insisted that the alternative sites were habitable, despite detainees and human rights groups, including the UNHCR, saying the new camps were not ready to take in the refugees.

They had also raised concerns about the men’s safety among a local population that has shown them hostility.”These men are scared, they are exhausted and they are despairing,” Amy Frew, a lawyer at the Australia-based Human Rights Law Centre, said earlier today.The Manus camp initially housed around 600 refugees, most of whom have been there since 2013, but around 200 moved voluntarily to the new centres earlier this month.

Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani, who has acted as an unofficial spokesman for the men and was taken by police to one of the new centres yesterday, said four full buses of refugees were taken from the closed camp this morning.”The refugees are going to leave the prison camp. So many are in the buses and are on the way to the new camps,” he said.”UNHCR reminds Australia of its obligation to take full responsibility and provide effective protection, safety and lasting solutions for all refugees and asylum-seekers in cooperation with the Papua New Guinean authorities,” the organisation said in a statement yesterday.