SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asylum seekers at an Australian-run offshore detention center in Papua New Guinea must move to a community facility in order to be eligible for a refugee swap deal with the United States, a notice posted at the camp and seen by Reuters shows.
The directive, designed to help Australia empty and ultimately close the center on Manus Island, presents asylum-seekers with a difficult choice, as they must voluntarily exchange a secure facility for an area where critics say they are likely to face violence and inadequate medical care.
Several of the refugees said they would not move to the nearby town of Lorengau, where authorities want them to shift in preference to staying at the detention camp.
“I’m not going to Lorengau,” said one asylum seeker, who refused to be named for fear of jeopardizing his application for U.S. resettlement. “Many refugees have been beaten, robbed and abused (there) in different ways.”
Resettlement interviews held by U.S. Homeland security officials will no longer be conducted at the detention center, authorities said in their notice.
“As Manus Refugee Processing Center is closing, interviews at the RPC will cease,” Papua New Guinea immigration authorities said in the notice. “Interviews in other locations in PNG are being arranged and you will not need to return to Manus Island.”
Parts of the facility will be closed as early as Sunday, the notice added, but did not specify when the locations would be changed.
Australian and PNG authorities did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on Friday.
This week, Reuters reported U.S. Homeland security officials had begun “extreme vetting” interviews with some asylum seekers as the U.S. begrudgingly honors a refugee swap deal with Australia that President Donald Trump called a “dumb deal”.
Australia has pledged to take Central American refugees from a center in Costa Rica as part of the deal. The swap is designed, in part, to help Australia close one of its offshore centers that is expensive to run and has been widely criticized by the United Nations over treatment of detainees.
It is unclear how many detainees will be resettled under the deal.
Australia’s hardline immigration policy requires asylum seekers intercepted at sea trying to reach Australia to be sent for processing to camps at Manus and on the South Pacific island of Nauru. They are told they will never be settled in Australia.
Asylum seekers are already allowed to travel to Lorengau during the day, but nearly all choose to remain in the detention center, located on a Papua New Guinea naval base.
In contrast, while the Lorengau transit center is easily accessible, it is not guarded by security officers.
Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez