Peter Dutton confirms PNG police have arrested ‘small number’ of asylum seekers
A “small number” of asylum seekers on Manus Island were arrested by Papua New Guinea police today as they tried to clear the closed immigration detention centre, Peter Dutton has confirmed.
The centre closed last month with food, water and electricity cut off and asylum seekers asked to move to new accommodation facilities nearby.
But more than 300 men remain holed up there, saying the new accommodation doesn’t have adequate facilities and they fear for their safety.
This morning Papua New Guinea police entered the facility in an attempt to remove the men.
“A number of people have been moved and we would expect the number, which up until this morning had been about 370 people, would drop obviously below that,” the Immigration Minister told Sky News.
“There is a lot of work that is ongoing and the operation is still underway.”
Mr Dutton said a small number of asylum seekers have been arrested by local police, including the Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani.
Mr Boochani later tweeted that he had since been released after being handcuffed for two hours.
A police spokesman said Boochani was not arrested but was removed and taken to the East Lorengau Transit Centre because he was influencing the other men not to leave the detention centre.
Mr Boochani had earlier been tweeting details of the police raid and said police were searching rooms, telling people they had an hour to leave the facility.
Like with any of these sorts of events, you will have key people of influence and I think there are some people that wanted to volunteer to leave but felt they were required to stay,” the police spokesman said.
“There seems to be this view that if there can be a clash with the police, somehow that footage being played in Australia will change the Australian Government’s resolve.”
The ABC has seen four buses carrying asylum seekers leaving the detention centre this afternoon, with local police confirming 35 men left voluntarily shortly after the police operation started.
PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki later said a total of 50 people were peacefully relocated.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called for the men to peacefully leave the closed detention centre.
“They think this is some way they can pressure the Australian Government to let them come to Australia,” he said.
“We will not be pressured.”
Greens immigration spokesman Nick McKim said up to 100 PNG police officers were inside the centre and had been confiscating people’s phones.
But PNG police spokesman Dominic Kakas told the ABC the operation was being conducted by 10 PNG Immigration officials and around 40 police personnel.
He said around 35 non-refugees had decided to voluntarily leave the centre following the operation, and would move to the new facilities being provided.
“Immigration officials went in and explained to them that they really had no legal standing… voluntarily they packed their bags and moved across,” he said.
“Police and immigration officials are still in the centre and they are basically talking to [the refugees and asylum seekers] and trying to reason with them.”
“There is a great degree of fear from the detainees there that violence will be perpetrated against them, they are determined to remain peaceful,” Senator McKim said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on the Government to accept a long-standing offer from New Zealand that would see them take 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore detention centres.
“The Government has allowed this pressure-cooker to build over four years. And I just ask Malcolm Turnbull, please do the deal with New Zealand,” he said.