Manus Island refugees refuse to budge

11:47 pm on 13 November 2017

None of the refugees occupying the former detention centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island left the facility today, despite pressure from authorities.

The 105th daily protest on Manus Island, 13-11-17.

The 105th daily protest on Manus Island, 13-11-17. Photo: supplied

The refugees said 421 of them were still there even after six buses were provided today to take them to alternative facilities in the island's main town, Lorengau.

But the island's police chief David Yapu said only 379 men were continuing the occupation.

He said after October 31 when the centre was closed, a total of 180 refugees had been relocated voluntarily to their new accommodations, including 100 men over the weekend.

On Monday, refugees said they were given another 48 hours to vacate the centre, which Mr Yapu would not confirm.

He said the buses would probably return on Tuesday.

"These people are giving us a headache. They are stubborn and they are looking at us as the authority and they are not moving," said Mr Yapu.

"Certainly they (the buses) will have to come back again."

Mr Yapu said the refugees had been told that control of the centre, which is on the Lombrum naval base, would soon revert to the PNG Defence Force.

"Once we get the copy of the revocation and the land goes back to the PNG Defence Force, that would entirely become the property of the PNG Defence Force and they would have control," said Mr Yapu.

The police chief said he was satisfied that the alternative facilities for the refugees in Lorengau were fit for occupation.

"The new campsite is ready. Water, power is readily available to them," said Mr Yapu.

A police vehicle at the Manus Island detention centre.

A police vehicle at the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: supplied

An application to inspect the "campsite" caused controversy in the PNG Supreme Court today after it was filed by the refugees' lawyer, Ben Lomai.

Last week, the chief justice of the court, Sir Salamo Injia, refused to order the reconnection of essential services to the centre as he found they were available for in the three alternative facilities.

Ben Lomai waits outside the Supreme Court Registry for his case to be called.

Ben Lomai waits outside the Supreme Court Registry for his case to be called. Photo: Facebook / Ben Lomai

Seeking to appeal the decision, Dr Lomai said he applied for an order for a judge to join him on an inspection of the facilities, including of what had been described as 'West Lorengau house' and also as 'Camp 300.'

The United Nations and Amnesty International had questioned the readiness of the facility, but Dr Lomai said Sir Salamo would not progress his application.

"He realised we are questioning his decision and he started taking issue on the competency of the application which is not his role. It should be the role of the lawyers involved, the state lawyers and immigration lawyers," said Dr Lomai.

"I raised the issue that 'you have a conflict of interest. You are bias. You can't be able to seek now to determine a full bench. You have to put that responsibility to the deputy chief justice.'

"So he said 'we'll adjourn now, how much time do you want? File an application to disqualify me.' So we adjourned until Wednesday next week to allow me to make an application to disqualify him," said Dr Lomai.

The refugees' lawyer said he believed the government was interfering with the judiciary.

"The reason I wanted to inspect the facilities was that if the facilities are OK then I might be able to talk to my clients and say 'look, you have to move. We can't do much. There's already facilities available to you, there's food, water and electricity, there's security aspects in place, there's medication in place for you, please move.'

"And I'm sure they would consider that. But the way the court is approaching it is not helpful at all. And I suspect there may have been collusion between the government and the courts," said Dr Lomai.

Personnel from the PNG immigration department inside the detention centre.

Personnel from the PNG immigration department inside the detention centre. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

Meanwhile, personnel from the PNG immigration department entered the centre on Monday and destroyed wells and tanks the refugees were using to store rain water.

The immigration minister Petrus Thomas said "there will be no forced movement but they have to voluntarily move."

He also said the facilities in Lorengau were safe.

But the journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani told the Guardian that while the men harboured security concerns about moving to Lorengau, their primary demand was freedom.

"We did not come to Australia to live in a prison. The peaceful protest by refugees is not because we want to remain in this prison. We are resisting because we want freedom in a safe environment. The core concern is freedom … only freedom. The rest of what you hear are just peripheral issues."

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