REFUGEES living in Australia’s asylum prison on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island applied yesterday for a court order to keep the jail open.
Papua New Guinea authorities had said they would cut off water, electricity and food to the detention centre inside the Lombrun navy base by 5pm local time yesterday. And anyone still there today would be considered trespassing on a military base.
The closing date was set after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled last year that Australia’s detention of asylum-seekers there was illegal and unconstitutional.
The 606 refugees locked up there have refused to move to three nearby facilities because they say the alternatives are less secure and they fear for their safety amid threats of violence from locals.
With the centre left unguarded as of yesterday morning, reports emerged of locals, some armed with machetes, looting the facility.
Sudanese refugee Abdul Mohammad said asylum-seekers and refugees feared for their lives, while Bangladeshi refugee Mohammad Ohidul Islam said some locals were throwing rocks at them.
“We are really scared,” he said from inside the centre.
However the Australian Refugee Action Coalition said the looting was minor and that people could not get into the detention camp proper.
Spokesman Ian Rintoul said that the refugees were likely to run out of water and the Manus authorities “could well be deciding they’ll starve the people out over a few days rather than using the police.”
Australia has for years bribed its poor Pacific neighbours to host refugee prisons, adamant that no-one will reach the country itself.
It has refused to accept any responsibility for the refugees, saying that they are Papua New Guinea’s problem.