More than 600 asylum seekers are refusing to leave an Australian-run refugee detention center Tuesday, fearing they may be subjected to violence by local residents.
The detainees are holding fast to remain in the Manus Island center, located on the Pacific island nation of Papua New Guinea, despite plans by officials to shut off all water and electricity to the compound by late Tuesday afternoon. Lawyers for the 600-plus men have appealed to Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court for a temporary injunction to prevent the camp from being closed.
Asylum-seekers say a group of unidentified local men have entered the camp and removed furniture and other things from the facility.
The detainees say the private security forces hired by Canberra to guard the facility have left the Manus center. PNG officials say the center will be transferred to the control of its defense forces on Wednesday, and anyone still on the grounds will be considered to be trespassing on a military base.
Under a strict immigration policy, Australia blocks asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia from reaching its shores by boat, sending them to Manus Island and another center on the Pacific island nation of Nauru. The policy has come under fire from the United Nations and human rights groups over the indefinite detention of the refugees, who have reportedly suffered abuse and emotional stress.
Australia scheduled the Manus camp for closure after Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled last year that the detention center was unconstitutional, as it violated the detainee’s constitutional right of personal liberty.
The remaining 600 men being held have been given the option of remaining on Papua New Guinea, returning to their homeland or being resettled in a third country. Many of them are barred from accepting citizenship in Australia, even if they are granted refugee status.