September 15, 2017 / 4:32 AM / 3 years ago

Australia to move 200 asylum seekers to new PNG detention centre

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Approximately two hundred men held in a remote Australian-run detention centre will be moved to a new facility within weeks, the country’s immigration minister said.

Security fences surround buildings inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea, February 11, 2017. Picture taken February 11, 2017. Behrouz Boochani/Handout via REUTERS

Peter Dutton, Australia’s immigration minister, said those men who have their refugee applications denied, ruling them ineligible for resettlement to the United States, and who are from countries such as Iran which precludes forced deportations, will be transferred to a new detention facility within Papua New Guinea (PNG) after Oct. 31.

“Those people, who total about 200, who have been found not to be refugees are to be moved into an alternative place of detention away from the regional processing centre,” Dutton told Australia’s parliament.

Dutton’s comments mark the first insight into how Australia plans to manage the end of its policy of detaining asylum seekers in PNG, where 800 men are held, many of whom for four years.

Canberra’s hardline immigration policy requires asylum seekers intercepted at sea trying to reach Australia to be sent for processing at camps on PNG’s Manus Island and on Nauru. They are told they will never be settled in Australia.

Question marks remain, however, about the fate of the remaining men on Manus as a refugee swap deal with the United States stalls.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama late last year agreed to resettle up to 1,250 asylum seekers held in Australian immigration centres in PNG and Nauru. In exchange, Australia agreed to take Central American refugees.

Australia had hoped the men would have been resettled by Oct. 31 but with the swap deal stalling under President Trump after the U.S. hit it annual intake cap, Canberra is left seeking a solution.

Australia’s security contract with Spanish company Ferrovial SA will expire on Oct. 31, forcing the closure of the camp that has been subject to violence from locals.

PNG officials have sought to transfer the men to a transit centre nearby but nearly all, citing fears of violence, have refused despite threats that it may rule them out of U.S. resettlement.

“We are not willing to move from the centre unless we are leaving for a country that is safe,” said one, who declined to be identified because of the fear it would jeopardise his application for U.S. resettlement.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Christopher Cushing

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