Hundreds of refugees and migrants living in limbo on a remote Pacific island refused Tuesday to vacate the detention facility where they have been held for years, the latest protest of their treatment under Australia’s offshore detention program.
The protest was a response to cuts to water and electricity to parts of the facility on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, where 800 men were still being held since attempting to reach Australia by boat.
The Australian authorities want the refugees to move to a new site; the protesters say they are being aggressively relocated and denied protection.
“We are not safe outside the fences, and immigration are trying to make life impossible for us inside,” said Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish journalist who fled Iran and has been on Manus Island since 2013. “We are protesting peacefully for our human rights, and to call on Australia to uphold its commitments to offer us protection as refugees,” he said.
Three refugees were reportedly attacked with machetes over the weekend, and Mr. Boochani posted images of their injuries to his social media accounts.
East Lorengau Refugee Transit Center, the new facility on Manus Island, is intended to temporarily house refugees awaiting resettlement. Those who are not considered refugees will be returned to their home countries.
In a video of the protest, the crowd of men can be heard shouting, “Bring power back” and “Do not kill us here.”
Mr. Boochani said that the group planned to protest again on Wednesday and that the demonstrations had remained peaceful.
The police commander on Manus, David Yapu, told the New Zealand news outlet Radio NZ that minor confrontations between the protesters and police officers had occurred in recent days.
“There was tension. We decided to withdraw,” Mr. Yapu said, saying his officers pulled back from the compound where the protest happened. “But our men are still there just to assist, to move the refugees from the Foxtrot compound.”
Foxtrot is part of the original facility, which this spring the Australian government announced it would shut down after it was deemed illegal by the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea. The migrants still living there were to be moved closer to the island’s main town, Lorengau, by the end of October.
Under Australia’s offshore detention program, asylum seekers intercepted at sea were to be housed at detention centers on Manus and on Nauru, an independent island nation to the east. The program and the conditions at the centers have been widely criticized by human rights groups and the United Nations.
In April 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the country’s detention of people who were seeking asylum in Australia was illegal. Four months later, both governments said the detention center would be shuttered, but they did not say when or what would be done with the people being held there.
Most of the men on Manus Island have been formally recognized as refugees, but Australia refuses to allow them to be resettled.
The Obama administration had agreed to resettle hundreds of the refugees from Manus and Nauru, but this year President Trump questioned that decision.
He later confirmed he would follow through on the commitment for the one-time resettlement agreement after “extreme vetting” of the refugees, but it is unclear when this will take place.
Peter Dutton, Australia’s minister of immigration and border protection, said he initially thought the refugees would be resettled in July.
“We’re disappointed that they haven’t been able to move this month, which was my hope,” Mr. Dutton said last month. “We’re working with both the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that we can get people off as quickly as possible.”
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