Thursday, November 23, 2017

History of Australia's offshore detention centre in PNG

Asylum seekers protest the closure of their

Asylum seekers protest the closure of their detention center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. (Associated Press) 

Sydney, Australia /AFP/. Australia has come under sharp criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups for its policy of holding asylum-seekers in offshore detention camps in the Pacific.
It was forced to close one camp, on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, on October 31, but hundreds of refugees have refused to leave it for new, PNG-run transit centres.
Here is a timeline of key dates in the history of the Manus camp leading up to PNG police beginning to forcibly remove refugees from the centre on Thursday:
- In 2001, the conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard opens the Manus camp as part of a strict policy of "offshore detention" of asylum-seekers caught trying to get to Australia by boat. The government defends the policy as needed to halt drownings of boatpeople.
- In 2008, Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd closes the camp to fulfil an election pledge.
- In November 2012, Rudd's Labor successor Julia Gillard reopens the detention centre under public pressure following a sharp increase in the number of boatpeople trying to reach Australia.
- In July 2013, after returning to office, Rudd significantly toughens the refugee policy by announcing that anyone who seeks asylum by boat will never be settled in Australia, with all sent to Manus or a second centre in the Pacific nation of Nauru.
- In February 2014, a riot by Manus detainees leaves around 70 men injured, including by gunshots fired by police. One refugee, Iranian Reza Barati, was beaten to death by PNG camp staff during the unrest.
- In September 2014, another Iranian refugee, Hamid Kehazaei, dies after delayed treatment for a bacterial infection.
- In January 2015, more than 500 men hold a two-week hunger strike to protest conditions in the camp.
- On April 26, 2016, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court rules the detention centre violates constitutional guarantees of liberty and must be closed.
- On August 17, 2016, Australia announces the Manus camp will be closed, but insists the detainees must be moved to other island camps or be resettled in third countries.
- On June 14, 2017, Australia agrees to pay compensation of Aus$70 million (US$53 million) to asylum-seekers detained on Manus Island between 2012 and 2016, avoiding a court case that alleged it breached a duty of care
- On August 7, 2017, Iranian detainee Hamed Shamshiripour is found dead, apparently after committing suicide.
- On September 26, 2017, a first group of 24 men leave Manus for the United States under a resettlement deal reached with the administration of former President Barack Obama but sharply criticised by his successor Donal Trump. The total number to be transferred under the initial deal is still uncertain, with the US under no obligation to take a set number.
- On October 11, 2017, Australia offers to move Manus detainees to family camps on Nauru. Few accept.
- On October 31, 2017, Australia declares the Manus camp closed and halts electricity, water and food supplies to the remaining 600 detainees who refuse to leave, fearing for their safety in the PNG-run transit camps.
- On November 2, 2017, the UNHCR calls on Australia to stop what it describes as a "humanitarian emergency" in the Manus camp.
- On November 5, 2017, new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern renews a New Zealand offer to resettle 150 of the men from Manus, but her Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, brushes aside the offer, saying US resettlement remains the priority.
- On November 7, 2017, A PNG court rejects a detainee appeal to restore water, electricity and food supplies to Manus.
- On November 9, 2017, PNG authorities threaten to use force and police in following days begin entering the camp to destroy shelters and water containers in bid to force departures.
Several dozen detainees move voluntarily to the transit centres, but reports begin emerging that they are not completed, with inadequate water and electricity.
- On November 23, 2017, PNG police raid the camp, destroying belongings and forcing around 40 refugees onto buses bound for the transit centres.