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Australia Agrees to Shut Down PNG-Based Asylum Detainee Center

  • VOA News

FILE - Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea, March 21, 2014.

FILE - Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea, March 21, 2014.

Australia has agreed to close its detention center for asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea's northern island of Manus.

The closure was announced Wednesday in a statement by PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, who said an agreement had been reached after meeting with Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in Port Moresby. The Pacific island nation's supreme court ruled in April that the center was illegal, as it violated the detainees constitutional right of personal liberty.

The statement offered no timetable for the center's eventual closing.

More than 800 people are being held at the Manus detention center, and hundreds more at a second detention center on the island of Nauru, as part of Canberra's policy of intercepting people attempting to sail to Australia and seek asylum. The refugees are barred from resettling in Australia, even if they are granted refugee status.

Dutton issued a statement Wednesday reaffirming that policy and emphasizing that no one from the Manus Island center will ever be settled in Australia.

Wednesday's announcement also comes a week after the Guardian Australia newspaper leaked reports of more than 2,000 allegations of sexual assaults and harassment of child detainees at the Nauru center, along with stories of detainees harming themselves.

Human rights groups have long denounced Australia's detention program, citing previous reports regarding conditions at the refugee camps. Canberra says the policy is aimed at protecting its borders and preventing dangerous ocean crossings in unsafe boats.

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