Politics

Malcolm Turnbull Says The Manus Island Detention Centre Will Be Shut Down By The End Of The Year

It is still unclear what will happen to the more than 850 people currently imprisoned on the island.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pledged to shut down the detention centre on Manus Island by the end of the year, but has remained evasive about what fate will befall the more than 850 asylum seekers currently imprisoned there.

The future of the facility has been in doubt since April last year, when Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that its continued operation violated the country’s constitution. In a joint press conference with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill in Port Moresby on Saturday, Mr Turnbull said that the two countries would “continue to work together to close the regional processing centre by the end of the year.”

It is believed that some of the refugees currently held on Manus Island will be resettled in the United States, under a deal struck between Turnbull and former US President Barack Obama. President Trump has been highly critical of the deal, but has ultimately promised to honour it. Officials from Homeland Security have visited both Manus and Nauru in order to begin vetting detainees for resettlement.

What will happen to detainees who are not approved for resettlement in the US remains unclear. Neither the Australian nor PNG governments seem keen to take responsibility for the issue. On Sunday Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sky News that “given that PNG is a signatory to the convention and to the protocols, they have responsibility to settle those people.”

However many of the asylum seekers on Manus are reluctant to resettle in PNG due to concerns about poverty and a lack of job opportunities, and as well as hostile attitudes help by many locals towards refugees which has previously led to violence. “We cannot force people into a resettlement exercise if they are not willing to accept our offer,” said Mr O’Neill.

Asked on Saturday whether some of the asylum seekers on Manus could be sent to the detention centre on Nauru, Turnbull avoided the question, saying instead that “we will take this process one step at a time.”

The Australian government has been widely condemned by human rights experts for its policy of imprisoning asylum seekers in offshore detention facilities. The United Nations has previously likened conditions on Manus Island to “torture”, while a report by Amnesty International compared the centre on Nauru to an “open-air prison”.