February 16, 2014
Refugee advocates and a doctor on Manus Island say asylum seekers have escaped from the Papua New Guinea detention centre.
Health workers at the Manus Island detention centre told a local doctor there has been a “mass breakout”.
They told the doctor to prepare for casualties, but Dr Otto Numan says no injured asylum seekers or guards have been brought to the hospital.
The Australian-based Refugee Action Coalition put out a statement on Sunday night saying protests at the centre had escalated earlier that day and a perimeter fence had been breached.
It is not clear how many asylum seekers have escaped.
Australia’s Immigration Department has confirmed there has been a “disturbance” at the centre and referred further questions to Minister Scott Morrison.
There are currently around 1,300 detainees on Manus Island. PNG’s foreign minister Rimbink Pato says officials have started processing refugee applications.
But the country does not have a visa category for refugees and there has been little public information about how, and where, they might be resettled.
Mr Pato told PNG’s parliament last week that he would seek the help of the Australian Government and the United Nations in deciding whether to resettle refugees within the country.
He said the option of resettling refugees in a third country would also be explored.
“So what the cabinet has decided recently is to appoint a group of eminent Papua New Guineans who will be assisted by relevant expertise from the UN, from the Australian Government, and other responsible stakeholders, to come up with relevant policy framework determining the question whether those asylum seekers will or will not be settled in PNG,” he said.
The Manus Island detention centre was first set up by the Howard government in 2001.
It was closed by the Labor government in 2008 but reopened by them in November 2012.