Manus Island: Work on new asylum seeker facilities halted by provincial government

October 02, 2014 | ABC News

Manus Island dispute

Manus Island provincial leaders and their supporters confront construction workers at the site of a new facility to accommodate asylum seekers sent to PNG by Australia. Photo supplied on October 2, 2014

The provincial government on Manus Island has stopped the construction of new facilities for asylum seekers and is threatening to close the existing detention centre.

Local leaders are demanding that Australia renegotiate its assistance package to Manus Island and the rest of Papua New Guinea, which is worth about $1 billion.

Political leaders and about 50 supporters arrived at the Australian-run regional processing centre in a convoy of 15 vehicles to make their demands known.

Manus Island governor Charlie Benjamin ordered work on the new development to stop.

“No further work should be done in building the camps until the Australian Government and the Papua New Guinea government sit down with us and discuss some issues,” he said.

The private contractor agreed to stop construction of additional facilities at the Lombrum naval base where asylum seekers are currently held and at the East Lorengau centre, which is being built as a new permanent regional processing centre.

The new facility may one day become student accommodation and the governor is angry it has been scaled down from a capacity of 700 to just more than 200.

Mr Benjamin is also unhappy that another two camps are being set up within the Lombrum base.

“We feel that is not right, simply because we never agreed to that in the first place,” he said.

Other issues include the dumping of waste and huge salary differences between local security guards and expatriate guards flown in for the job.

Detention centre could be closed: Manus Island governor

The provincial government wants Australia and Papua New Guinea to renegotiate the $1 billion infrastructure package that Australia promised in return for hosting the detention centre.

Governor Charlie Benjamin said closing the detention centre was one option.

“It is not something that I want to see happen but if it happened, it wouldn’t affect us because it has only brought social problems to us,” he said.

“It hasn’t brought up the development that had been preached to us.”

A recent Australian report into the regional processing centre found it directly employed 1,000 people and pumped millions of dollars into the economy of PNG’s smallest province. That is additional to the $29 million received in aid.

PNG’s chief migration officer Mataio Rabura said the national government did not support the provincial government’s actions.

He said the issues raised by provincial leaders should be discussed at the regular meetings between Australian and PNG ministers, or at the review of the resettlement arrangement scheduled for later this year.

A spokesperson from the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby said these are matters for the PNG government and Australia looks forward to the resolution of the issues.



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Filed under Detention Centers, PNG/Pacific Solution

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