Refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea have been threatened with arrest and prosecution as authorities ratchet up the pressure ahead of the closure of Australian operations on Manus Island.
Meanwhile, the Turnbull government is under pressure from Labor to “come clean” after Fairfax Media revealed a boat carrying six Chinese men and a PNG man had successfully landed in Australian territory.
About 100 men have now been transferred from Manus Island to Port Moresby, according to witnesses, while refugees were sent a forthright letter outlining their options before the Manus centre closed on October 31.
Asylum seekers walk past locals on Manus Island, where Australian operations will cease in October. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The men were given four options: relocate to the transit centre, move into the PNG community, go home voluntarily or resettle in a third country, potentially the US. Australia’s offer of $20,000 for those who go home voluntarily expires on Thursday.
They were warned services at the Regional Processing Centre would be “progressively reduced”, and anyone who remained in closed areas of the centre was violating PNG law and could be reported to police.
On Tuesday, the Immigration Department deported to Manus Island a Rohingyan refugee who had received medical attention in Australia, in an escalation of its crackdown on asylum seekers.
Fairfax Media understands the 34-year-old man had been in immigration detention in Melbourne, before being transferred to Brisbane and flown to PNG on a commercial flight this week. He is now understood to be in the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre.
An Immigration Department spokeswoman said it did not comment on individual cases.
On Wednesday, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government should stop “keeping us in the dark” after Fairfax Media’s report of a boat reaching Australian territory.
“We don’t know what has happened here, I think the government needs to explain how this has happened and how we can make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “The government has the facts, they are just not telling us.”
The boat reached Saibai Island, about 4 kilometres south of PNG in the Torres Strait but which is part of Queensland, on August 20.
As recently as Monday, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton had boasted “we’ve not had a successful boat now in well over 1000 days”.
A 40-year-old Chinese man and a 52-year-old Papua New Guinean man were charged with aggravated people smuggling and, according to the Federal Police, appeared in a Cairns court on August 29. The other five Chinese men were returned to China.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop played down the significance of the boat arrival, arguing that the Border Force had successfully detected the boatload of people coming to Australia.
“We have very good border security strategies in place and these people have been detected,” she said “Australia maintains a very tough line against the illegal entry into Australia of people.”
Ms Bishop dismissed suggestions the arrivals could be the start of a new wave of arrivals.
As the Turnbull government moves to clear Manus Island and Nauru, long-awaited medical transfers in PNG appear to have finally materialised.
Ben Moghimi, a 25-year-old Iranian refugee who has been on Manus Island for four years, said he was among 30 men, some of whom were handcuffed, taken on a charter flight to Port Moresby last week.
More than 100 men were now at the Granville Motel in the PNG capital under the watch of medical and security contractors, Mr Moghimi said, and were worried about what would happen once Manus closed.
“They are relocating people from there to here,” he told Fairfax Media. “Why didn’t the medical transfer happen last year? It’s just kind of suspicious, you know.
“We are scared … that they [will] leave us homeless in the street in PNG. That’s what they are planning to do, it’s just obvious.”
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