Australia agrees to close unconstitutional refugee detention camp on Manus Island

PORT MORESBY , Papua New Guinea, Aug. 17 (UPI) — An Australian refugee detention center in Papua New Guinea will be closed after it was determined the housing of asylum seekers there is unconstitutional.

After meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, with Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced the closure of the Manus Island camp.

Australia pays fees to Nauru and Papua New Guinea, nearby nations, to maintain asylum seekers attempting to enter Australia. This results in the refugees never actually reaching Australia. Attempts by refugees to travel from Southeastern Asia countries to Australia have declined significantly as a result.

Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled the arrangement unconstitutional in April, and Australian lawyers warned the Australian government could be sued for false imprisonment of refugees.

About 850 people currently reside in the camp, and many have waited three years for their resettlement. It was not immediately clear where they would be sent.

O’Neill previously said that, in light of the court ruling, the Manus Island camp would close. It prompted comment by Dutton, who said Australia paid Papua New Guinea “a lot of money” to house the refugees, the Brisbane Times reported.

Australia paid Papua New Guinea $309 million in 2013 to establish the Manus Island camp.

In a statement released Wednesday, Dutton said his government has a “longstanding position” to close the camp “and support those people as they transition into PNG or return to their country of origin.”

“Our position, confirmed again today with PNG, is that no one from Manus Island Regional Processing Center will ever be settled in Australia.”

A report by the human right advocacy group Amnesty International, earlier in August, noted the Australian detention center on the island nation of Nauru is the site of a “system of deliberate abuse.”

“It is essentially like an open-air prison for these refugees and people seeking asylum.”

It noted more than 2,200 incident reports of sexual assault and other violence against the refugees.

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