Australia

Manus refugees: Closure of Australian-run centre to begin 'in weeks'

Australia's detention centre on PNG's Manus Island is scheduled to close Image copyright Behrouz Boochani/Reuters
Image caption Australia's detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea

Asylum seekers at an Australian-run detention centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have been told to "consider their options" before the facility closes.

Australia detains asylum seekers who arrive by boat at the Manus Island centre and on the nation of Nauru.

The PNG centre is due to close by 31 October. On Monday, a PNG official told detainees that the closure of one compound would begin within weeks.

It remains unclear how many will be settled in the US under a refugee deal.

The agreement, struck between Australia and the Obama administration, allows for up to 1,250 refugees on Manus Island and Nauru to migrate to the US.

Australia's offshore detention policy is controversial and has been criticised as inhumane.

'You cannot stay'

Australia agreed to close the Manus Island centre in August after a PNG court ruled that detaining asylum seekers and refugees there was unconstitutional.

A PNG official on Monday told detainees they should prepare to leave, with a block in one compound to be shuttered on 28 May.

"You cannot stay at the regional processing centre. You need to consider your options," the official said in a recording heard by the BBC.

About 700 of the 800 men detained on Manus Island have been officially recognised as refugees. The others have had their claims denied, or are awaiting a decision.

The official said refugees could temporarily relocate to a "transit centre", resettle in the PNG community, return to their home country or move to another country where they were eligible for residency.

Men deemed not to be refugees should return to their home country with "reintegration assistance", he said. According to Australian media, this constitutes a A$20,000 (£11,500; $14,900) payment which is available until the end of August.

No detainee would ever be resettled in Australia, he said, reiterating Canberra's policy.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the Manus Island centre would be progressively shut down.

"The centre won't close drop dead on the 31st of October, they will start to decommission parts of the centre in the run up," he told local radio 3AW on Tuesday.

Fate of residents unclear

Although the US deal covers up to 1,250 refugees, there is no guarantee that many will be accepted.

In return, Australia has agreed to resettle people from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador who have sought asylum in the US.

The agreement was the subject of a tense call between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and US President Donald Trump, who labelled the deal "dumb" but has since pledged to honour it.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionAustralia PM Malcolm Turnbull on Trump call: 'Call ended courteously'

According to refugee advocates, US officials recently interviewed about 70 people on Manus Island but left and said they would return in August.

The advocates fear the process will not be completed before the PNG centre's scheduled closure.