Police began forcibly removing refugees from a shuttered Australian camp in Papua New Guinea on Thursday, detainees said, as authorities tried to end a standoff that has drawn world attention to Canberra's tough policy on asylum-seekers.
Refugees barricaded in the abandoned camp said authorities entered the centre in the morning, pulling belongings from their rooms and shouting at them to get into buses lined up to take them to transition centres elsewhere on Manus.
A photo shared by Australian activist group GetUp showed Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani, who has been acting as a spokesman for the detainees, being led away from the camp by police.
GetUp spokeswoman Zoe Edwards told AFP refugees inside the camp said ‘men are being forcibly removed by bus, apparently to other centres’.
‘The situation is unfolding, so it's unclear how many men have been moved,’ she added.
Other detainees tweeted that dozens of men were being taken away, despite PNG police commissioner Gari Baki saying earlier this week that no force would be used.
There was no immediate comment from PNG police Thursday and no immediate reports of injuries during the operation.
Boochani wrote earlier on Twitter from inside the camp that ‘police have started to break the shelters, water tanks and are saying 'move, move'’.
‘Navy soldiers are outside the prison camp. We are on high alert right now. We are under attack,’ he said, adding that two refugees were in need of urgent medical treatment for health issues.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday reaffirmed his government's stance that none of the refugees, who were sent to the camp for trying to reach Australia by boat, would be brought to his country.
The camp, established alongside another on Nauru under Canberra's harsh immigration policy, was shut on October 31 after a PNG court ruled it was unconstitutional.
Around 600 men refused to move to three PNG-run transition centres on the island, despite Australia cutting off water and electricity, and with limited food supplies.
The detainees said they were fearful of hostility from locals outside the camp, and said the new centres were not fully operational, with a lack of security, sufficient water or electricity.
Some 200 men eventually moved to the new facilities, but the rest stayed put despite worsening conditions.
The men are barred from resettling in Australia, and Turnbull said Thursday their actions were meant to pressure Canberra to let them move to his nation.
‘They think this is some way they can pressure the Australian government to let them come to Australia. Well, we will not be pressured,’ he told reporters in Canberra.
‘The people on Manus should go to the alternative places of safety with all of the facilities they need.’
Global rights group Amnesty International said Thursday there were ‘risks of serious injury if the authorities use force’, and called for the refugees to be brought to Australia.
Australian Federal Police said in a statement to AFP that they had one liaison officer on Manus, but no personnel were in the camp or involved in the police operation.
Baki, the police commissioner, had said Tuesday that his officers would not use force to move the men, with PNG police adding in a statement that ‘the refugees will be asked politely to pack up and voluntarily leave the centre’.
Canberra has tried to resettle the refugees in third countries, including the United States, with little success.
Just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to America in September.
Despite widespread criticism, Canberra has defended its offshore processing policy as stopping deaths at sea after a spate of drownings.
The camps' conditions have been slammed by the United Nations and human rights groups amid reports of widespread abuse, self-harm and mental health problems.
Amnesty said the refugees' safety fears were also ‘well-founded’, adding that some had previously been ‘attacked and seriously injured’ by locals ‘who have made clear they do not want the men on Manus’.
The Australian Medical Association on Sunday called on Canberra to allow doctors to help the refugees, warning there was a ‘worsening and more dangerous situation emerging on Manus’.
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