Manus Island detention centre to close by year’s end, inquest told
The Papua New Guinean high court [sic] has indicated that they want it closed, and certainly the indications from the government are that they are looking that the facility should be closed by the end of this year, Paul Douglas, assistant secretary with the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, said in evidence before the Queensland coroner. Douglas s comments coincide with efforts inside the Australian-run detention centre to escalate forcible deportations from the island, as well as ongoing interviews with US officials about resettlement in America. Douglas, the former chief medical officer for the department and now assistant secretary of the health policy and performance branch, was appearing at the coronial inquest into the 2014 death of Hamid Kehazaei, who died from a treatable infection contracted at the Manus centre.
In the context of Kehazaei s death and efforts to prevent more fatalities in offshore detention, Douglas was asked what the Australian and PNG governments plans were for the Manus facility. Douglas said nothing is firm about the proposed closure, but that it was intended for the camp to be shuttered by the end of the year.
That s what we are working towards.
Previously, the PNG and Australian governments, while agreeing the Manus detention centre would be shut, have consistently refused to nominate a timeframe for its closure.
That s a matter for the government of Papua New Guinea, the Autralian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said when asked in November 2016 how quickly he intended for the Australian-run detention centre to be shuttered. PNG s prime minister, Peter O Neill, has demanded the closure of Manus, saying it was a problem that had damaged his country s reputation. Visiting Canberra last year, O Neill said it was up to Australia when Manus would be closed, but that the camp could not continue indefinitely. But both governments may have a timeline imposed upon them: the company contracted to run the Manus detention centre, Spanish conglomerate Ferrovial, has said it will not run the camps beyond the expiration of its current contract in October, and has refused to bid for an extension of its offshore work.
In April last year, the PNG supreme court ruled the detention centre was illegal and unconstitutional  and must close. A further supreme court challenge seeks the return of the 945 men currently held on Manus Island to Australia and compensation for their ongoing illegal and indefinite detention. Most of the men held on Manus have been there more than three years. The vast majority of those assessed 669 of 859, or 78% have been found to be refugees and are legally owed protection.
A total of 168 men have been found not to meet the refugees convention threshold for protection. The PNG and Australian governments have recently ramped up efforts to encourage asylum seekers to voluntary abandon their protection claims, as well as forcibly deporting asylum seekers who have been denied refugee status. The Australian government is offering asylum seekers up to $20,000 to voluntarily depart PNG and return to their country of origin.
For those who refuse to go voluntarily, PNG acting chief migration officer, Solomon Kantha, has said his department is preparing travel documents for the forced deportation of the first 60 of 168 people in the centre found not to be refugees.
They will not be resettled in PNG. Voluntary departure is encouraged… non-refugees who do not elect to depart voluntarily will have their departure enforced, consistent with PNG domestic legislation and our international obligations, he said. Kantha said the forced removal of the 60 people would begin in the next few weeks, continuing on a regular basis for the others as documents were organised. About half of the 168 Manus detainees who have been denied refugee status are from Iran, a country that refuses to accept the forced return of its citizens.
Also on Manus Island, interviews for refugees seeking resettlement in the United States have begun. The resettlement support centre, contracted by the US state department, has started preliminary interviews. Subsequent security interviews will be conducted by the US Department of Homeland Security. The beleaguered US-Australia refugee resettlement deal proposes the resettlement of up to 1,250 refugees from Australia s offshore detention centres to America.
The US president, Donald Trump, has described the agreement, brokered by his predecessor, as a dumb deal  and the worst deal ever , but government officials insist it will be upheld.
However, the deal does not oblige the US to accept a single refugee, only that it consider applications, and the US administration has promised that all applicants from Australia s offshore islands would be subject to an as-yet-undefined extreme vetting process.
- ^ Manus Island (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Hamid Kehazaei (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ when asked in November 2016 (www.pm.gov.au)
- ^ problem that had damaged his country s reputation (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Spanish conglomerate Ferrovial, has said it will not run the camps (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ ruled (uploads.guim.co.uk)
- ^ illegal and unconstitutional (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ 669 of 859, or 78% (newsroom.border.gov.au)
- ^ Donald Trump, has described the agreement, brokered by his predecessor, as a dumb deal (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ Paul Stevenson on Australia s immigration detention regime: Every day is demoralising (www.theguardian.com)