Australia and Papua New Guinea have agreed to close a controversial Australian-funded asylum seeker detention centre on Manus Island, although the ultimate fate of 800 refugees held in the camp remained unclear.
Under Australian law, anyone intercepted trying to reach the country by boat is sent for processing to camps on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru or to Manus Island off Papua New Guinea.
They are never eligible to be resettled in Australia. Some asylumseekers have spent years in the camps, which have been criticised by the UN and human rights groups, with numerous reports of abuse and self-harm among detainees, including children.
Some in Papua New Guinea are unhappy with the prospect of hundreds of asylumseekers being resettled there.
There have been reports of asylumseekers being attacked by locals.
“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.
“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 manner.” There was no mention of a closing date.
Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton, who met O’Neill to discuss the camp, reiterated Australia’s position that it would not accept any refugees detained in Papua New Guinea.
“It has been the longstanding position of this government to work with Papua New Guinea to close Manus and support those people as they transition into Papua New Guinea or return to their country of origin.
"Our position, confirmed again today with Papua New Guinea, is that no one from Manus Island Regional Processing Centre will ever be settled in Australia,” said Dutton.
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. Australia says the policy is needed to stop asylumseekers 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.
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