PNG police storm Manus Island detention centre to remove refugees
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PNG police storm Manus Island detention centre to remove refugees

POLICE in Papua New Guinea on Thursday mounted a raid on a detention centre to remove refugees and asylum seekers from an officially-closed camp in Manus island, in a bid to end a three-week-long humanitarian crisis.

According to the Abc.net.au, the Australian-run centre was closed last month and the occupants were told to vacate the premises to another centre nearby.

However, more than 350 men have refused to move, saying the new place did not have adequate facilities. The refugees and asylum seekers also fear for their safety at the new centre.

The authorities have also cut food, water and electricity and told the men they were occupying government property.

The centre’s occupants also said the police were acting aggressively, reporting large numbers of officers and members of the paramilitary police mobile squad, entering and giving them an hour to leave.

SEE ALSO: Refugees barricade in Manus camp as Papua New Guinea army prepare to enter 

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Police enter the Manus Island detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, on Nov 23, 2017.

The refugees also said the officers shouted at them and demanded they hand over their phones, The Guardian reported.

Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Sydney radio that the aim of the police operation was to move the men to a transit centre elsewhere on the island.

One asylum seeker told Reuters that the men felt threatened and scared and some climbed onto roofs for safety. A second asylum seeker, Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist who has been a Manus detainee for four years, told Reuters by text message that the refugees were refusing to move.

Boochani tweeted that police and immigration officials removed water and the men’s belongings. Pictures sent via messaging service WhatsApp showed upturned boxes of food and torn parcels of rice and instant noodles.

The three men said they have been sharing a solar panel to charge their cell phones because the detention centre has had no electricity for 23 days.

A video shot by Sudanese refugee Abdul Aziz and posted on Facebook showed local police using a megaphone to tell the asylum seekers to leave because their stay is illegal.

The men in the camp, most of whom are from Afghanistan, Iran, Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, are held under Australia’s strict “sovereign borders” immigration policy, under which Australia refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores.

The asylum seekers say they risk being resettled in PNG or another developing nation permanently.

Calls to PNG immigration were not immediately returned. Australia’s immigration officials did not have an immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.

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Protesters block the entrance to the Victorian Liberal party offices in Melbourne, Australia November 23, 2017. Source: AAP/Joe Castro/via Reuters

SEE ALSO: Death of refugee sparks riots at Manus Island detention camp

The stand-off has attracted the attention of the United Nations, which is a long-time critic of the conditions experienced by asylum seekers held in Australia’s offshore camps.

The UN has warned of a “looming humanitarian crisis” and has urged Australia to accept an offer by New Zealand to take some of the men.

Australia has insisted the priority was to an existing refugee swap deal negotiated last year with former US President Barack Obama.

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson said on Thursday the situation was at risk of turning violent.

“It’s very volatile at the moment,” Pearson told Reuters. “These men are there for three weeks. They’re sick, they are hungry, fatigued. It’s just not a good situation.”

Additional reporting by Reuters