Australia and Papua New Guinea have agreed to
close a controversial Australian-funded prison
camp for asylum seekers on Manus Island,
although the ultimate fate of 800 refugees held in
the camp remains unclear.
Under Australian law, anyone intercepted trying to
reach the country by boat is sent for processing to
detention centres on Manus Island, off Papua New
Guinea (PNG), or the Pacific island of Nauru.
They are never eligible to be resettled in Australia.
“Both Papua New Guinea and Australia are in
agreement that the centre is to be closed,” Papua
New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said in a
statement on Wednesday, following a meeting with
Peter Dutton, Australia’s immigration minister.
“A series of options are being advanced and
implemented. It is important that this process is
not rushed out but carried out in a careful
There was no mention of a closing date.
Some asylum seekers have spent years in the
camps, which have been criticised by the United
Nations and human rights groups, with numerous
reports of abuse and self-harm among detainees,
Some in PNG are unhappy at the prospect of
hundreds of asylum seekers being resettled into
their country, and there have been reports of
refugees being attacked by locals.
Australia says the policy is needed to stop asylum
seekers dying at sea on the dangerous boat
journey from Indonesia to Australia. Hundreds of
people died attempting the trip in the years before
the policy was put in place.
Following his meeting with the PNG leader, Dutton
reiterated Australia’s position that it would not
accept any of the refugees held in Manus.
“It has been the long-standing position of this
government to work with PNG to close Manus and
support those people as they transition into PNG
or return to their country of origin,” Dutton said in
“Our position, confirmed again today with PNG, is
that no one from Manus Island Regional
Processing Centre will ever be settled in Australia.”
Reports of abuse
The announcement came after a newspaper
published leaked documents detailing more than
2,000 incidents of sexual abuse , assault and
attempted self-harm, reported over two years at
the Nauru detention centre.
The harsh conditions and reports of systemic child
abuse at the camps have drawn wide criticism at
home and abroad.
“In April, there was a court ruling in Papua New
Guinea saying that the prison camp was
unconstitutional, and Papua New Guinea has made
it clear that they have wanted that camp to close,”
Al Jazeera’s Andrew Thomas, reporting from
“But this is the first time that Australia has
suggested that it’s signed up to that as well.”
A spokesperson for the Australian ministry of
immigration told our correspondent that the
announcement “was not a big development”, but
“merely another step along the road towards the
ultimate closure of the prison on Manus Island”.
“There is a feeling here that there is momentum to
get these prisons in other countries closed,”
The move to close the prison camp was
immediately welcomed by refugee advocates.
“Nearly a thousand men on Manus have already
lost three or more years of their lives locked up in
limbo for no good reason,” Elaine Pearson,
Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a
“They’ve endured dirty, cramped conditions,
inadequate medical care and violence. Finally, it is
time to let them move on with their lives in safety