Papua New Guinea police have removed dozens of asylum seekers from the Manus Island detention centre and put pressure on hundreds of others to leave, more than three weeks after the camp was decommissioned. Refugees inside the centre reported large numbers of officers, including the paramilitary police mobile squad, entered the centre on Thursday and gave them an hour to move to alternative accommodation in the nearby town of Lorengau. The officers shouted at detainees and demanded they hand over their phones.
Water, power and food supplies ended when the Manus camp was officially closed on 31 October, based on the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court’s ruling last year that Australia’s policy of housing asylum seekers there was unconstitutional. Refugees described police as intimidating and aggressive as they dismantled structures and threw away refugees’ belongings. One officer was seen carrying a large bush knife, which are common on Manus. Amnesty International cited reports of immigration officials entering them camp armed with sticks and knives. “The risks of serious injury if the authorities use force now is completely foreseeable,” researcher Kate Schuetze said in a statement.
A video livestreamed from inside the facility showed men chanting “human rights help us, they want to kill us”, and two men apparently unconscious. Walid Zazai, filming the scene, said it was a medical emergency but there was no assistance. “We don’t know if he had a heart attack because he had previously problems,” Zazai said of one. The second unconscious man had epilepsy, he said.
Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani was arrested as police and immigration officials swept through the camp, destroying furniture, property and food. Footage shows Boochani being led away, held by two uniformed policemen, and surrounded by several others. He does not physically resist. Other refugees said police were specifically looking for him. Boochani has been the most outspoken advocate for the refugees held on Manus Island, filing reports regularly for the Guardian and other news outlets and giving interviews with media across the world.
Police Commissioner Gari Baki said 50 police and immigration officials entered the Manus Island camp on Thursday morning and “peacefully relocated” 50 asylum seekers among the 378 men to Lorengau. Baki said in a statement all had “left voluntarily,” except for Boochan, who he said was neither arrested nor charged. Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton, confirmed a “police operation” on Thursday morning but accused detainees of trashing it the old centre. “I think it’s outrageous that people are still there,” he told 2GB radio. “They’ve trashed the facility, they’re living in squalor.” “The Australian taxpayers have paid about $10m for a new facility and we want people to move.” He likened the situation to building a new house for tenants who refuse to move in. Dutton’s repeated claims that the alternative accommodation units are ready and suitable for detainees have been consistently debunked by observers and published videos and photos of blocked toilets, bathrooms without water, and buildings still under construction. Detainees have repeatedly claimed they are not safe in the new housing in Lorengau, citing frequent violent attacks and a lack of security.