Peter Dutton says detainees trying to force asylum policy change

Immigration minister accuses advocates and Greens of aiding 600 refugees and asylum seekers who refuse to leave Manus Island centre

The Australian immigration minister has accused detainees – “aided and abetted” by advocates and the Greens – of attempting to force the government to change its policy through subterfuge.

Peter Dutton released his statement on Tuesday as more than 600 men, a mix of refugees and asylum seekers, refuse to leave the Manus Island detention centre, citing fears for their safety in the community.

Advocates, detainees and human rights organisations, as well as Greens, Labor, and independent politicians, have called for the closure not to proceed in the current manner.

Dutton said the coalition government had a “clear and consistent policy” of refusing to allow people who sought asylum by boat to ever settle in Australia.

“Six hundred men at the Manus Regional Processing Centre (RPC) in Papua New Guinea who attempted to enter Australia illegally via people smuggler’s boats – now aided and abetted by so called ‘advocates’ and the Greens – are trying to force a change to that policy,” he said. “They will not.”

Dutton echoed his department in disputing human rights group accounts that the alternative accommodation was not ready. He said it was safe and secure, and health and other services “will be maintained”.

He dismissed complaints by detainees and advocates about the current situation as “nothing more than subterfuge” and said there were “reasonable alternative pathways” for all detainees.

Those whose claims for asylum were rejected were in PNG illegally and should return home, he said. Refugees could settle in PNG under the 2013 agreement, apply for US resettlement, or move to Nauru.

Dutton also accused the Greens Senator, Nick McKim, who was at the centre on Tuesday and expressed “grave fears” for the men, of giving detainees false information and using them “for cheap political stunts to build his public profile”.

Speaking in Perth, the acting prime minister Julie Bishop said the government was in “constant communication” with PNG authorities, and refugees and asylum seekers would be “guaranteed all appropriate services” at the new accommodation units.

“Today the regional processing centre on Manus Island will be closed and the PNG government has made alternative accommodation arrangements,” she said.

“I understand the PNG government has made arrangements for all essential services to be available at the alternative accommodation – food, water, electricity and medical services.”

Dutton’s lengthy statement did not answer questions about Australia’s financial and practical involvement on Manus beyond Tuesday. It made no reference to the PNG immigration minister, Petrus Thomas, and his declaration on Sunday that unsuccessful asylum claimants and refugees who refused to settle in PNG were the responsibility of Australia.

Thomas said PNG had “no obligation” to deal with them and Australia had to pursue third country options. On Tuesday he reportedly said the Australian government was yet to provide any clarity.

“It is PNG’s position that as long as there is one individual from this arrangement that remains in PNG, Australia will continue to provide financial and other support to PNG to manage the persons transferred,” he said.

The Labor immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, said: “Peter Dutton’s failure to answer basic questions about arrangements in PNG after the closure of the regional processing centre has fuelled refugees’ uncertainty. Transferring refugees from one centre to another is not a long term solution. These people urgently need viable third-country resettlement options.”

Labor senator Lisa Singh said the situation was a “humanitarian crisis the government has created on its own” and they should have accepted an offer from New Zealand to resettle some refugees from Australia’s offshore processing centres.

“Australia has a duty of care to protect these vulnerable men. There may be more deaths if the Australian government does not resolve the dangerous situation it is creating today by closing its detention centre unilaterally.

“I cannot understand how New Zealand does not fit with a regional resettlement framework. They are our neighbours and are willing to help settle these refugees,” she told the Guardian. “Now that Australia has been elected to the UN Human Rights Council, we need to start practicing what we preach.”

Detainees on Manus Island have been told they face “removal from an active PNG military base” if they refuse to leave the detention centre after 5pm, and locals told Amnesty International that police squads have armed themselves “like they are going to war”.

Multiple accounts from detainees, locals, and observers say the situation on the ground has been exacerbated by a lack of consultation and communication.

Manus residents have protested against the construction of accommodation units for refugees on private land in communities, without consultation. They have also expressed fear at large numbers of refugees joining the small community, and questioned what support will be given.


Helen Davidson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Campaign catchup: Peter Dutton dials up refugee rhetoric
The immigration minister warns illiterate, innumerate refugees will steal Australian jobs, triggering the least edifying day of the election 2016 campaign so far

Elle Hunt

18, May, 2016 @7:17 AM

Article image
Turnbull says Manus detainees aren’t scared, just manipulated by ‘activists in Australia’
PM dismisses fears of refugees too afraid to leave compound and says people smugglers would take advantage of New Zealand’s offer to take refugees

Gareth Hutchens

06, Nov, 2017 @11:26 PM

Article image
Manus Island closure does not fix flaws in detention policy, Amnesty says
Immigration minister Peter Dutton says the Australian-run detention centre will progressively shut down

Helen Davidson

16, May, 2017 @3:00 AM

Article image
Guardian Australia's morning mail: refugees would 'take Australians jobs', says Peter Dutton
Today’s campaign: Coalition hits Labor hard over its asylum policy as Peta Credlin says Liberals ‘just as compassionate’ as left

Bridie Jabour

17, May, 2016 @9:50 PM

Article image
Labor demands Peter Dutton apologise for ‘outrageous’ comments on Manus violence
Immigration minister linked incident involving armed men storming detention centre with separate incident involving a child, despite contrary evidence

Katharine Murphy Political editor

23, Apr, 2017 @8:00 PM

Article image
Labor says Peter Dutton must release ‘secret’ audit of Manus Island contracts
Kristina Keneally says Coalition should not renew Paladin contract without making review public

Amy Remeikis

23, Jun, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Asylum seekers face lifetime ban from entering Australia if they arrive by boat
New law to include refugees and will apply to any adult sent to Manus Island or Nauru since July 2013

Gareth Hutchens

30, Oct, 2016 @3:14 AM

Article image
Australia must end 'fiction' it does not control Nauru and Manus centres, Senate inquiry finds
Government has duty of care to asylum seekers and refugees held in offshore processing, senators say, after investigation sparked by the Nauru files

Helen Davidson and Christopher Knaus

21, Apr, 2017 @7:41 AM

Article image
Mental health conditions behind most Nauru and Manus refugee medical admissions
New figures come as Liberal backbencher Russell Broadbent says Australia cannot continue with indefinite detention

Katharine Murphy Political editor

22, Jul, 2019 @7:59 PM

Article image
Coalition MPs can't agree on which refugees Australia's lifetime ban will affect
Sussan Ley contradicts Peter Dutton, saying people on bridging visas won’t be affected, and Julie Bishop says only refugees whose claims were processed in Australia will be exempt

Paul Karp

31, Oct, 2016 @10:52 PM