Papua New Guinean police have used batons to beat refugees and asylum seekers in the Manus Island detention centre, as they continue their operation to clear the decommissioned camp.
Video shot within the centre on Friday morning showed officers from PNG’s mobile squad threatening and hitting refugees with long metal poles as they dragged men out of the centre.
Other pictures showed immigration officials – in marked yellow T-shirts – physically moving refugees out of the centre.
The effort to physically clear the camp – codenamed Operation Helpim Friends – began on Thursday with about 50 refugees and asylum seekers taken from the detention centre to other accommodation on Manus Island – most of which is not yet fully built, without running water, electricity or security fences.
The detention centre, where most of the refugees and asylum seekers have been held for more than four years was officially closed on 31 October.
The men who remained there, living without running water, food, and electricity for three weeks, have resisted going to other accommodation because they do not feel safe in Lorengau, after a series of violent attacks against refugees in the township, and because of a lack of services, especially health services, in the new centre.
Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani, who was targeted and arrested by police on Thursday, and taken to Lorengau before being released without charge, continued to report from the island.
“This morning police attacked the prison camp and the refugees are saying that they beat them. The refugees are going to leave the prison camp. So many are in the buses and are on the way to the new camps.
“Immigration and police broke many phones of ppl (sic) trying to take photos. The refugees are gathering in Oscar compound, police and immigration are around them. Some officers destroying Delta compound. The ppl (sic) are waiting for buses to take them, four buses are full and on way to new camps.”
Walid Zazai, who remains in the camp, said refugees and asylum seekers were not resisting or using violence.
In Canberra, Malcolm Turnbull said the decommissioned detention centre was being cleared.
“I am pleased to say in terms of Manus is that the reports we have is that busloads of people are leaving Manus and complying with the directions of the PNG authorities and moving to the alternative facilities available to them,” the prime minister said. “That’s as they should.”
The Australian government’s claims that alternative accommodation units are ready and suitable for habitation have been consistently refuted by independent observers. Videos and photos have been published of blocked toilets, bathrooms without water and buildings still under construction. Electricity was cut to one accommodation centre during a dispute with local landowners, and detainees have repeatedly claimed they are not safe in the new housing in Lorengau, citing frequent violent attacks and a lack of security.
The United Nations Refugee Agency said it was troubled by reports of force being used to remove refugees and asylum seekers from the former regional processing centre.
The UNHCR said it had been given assurances excessive force had not been and would not be used, but it could not independently confirm what was happening as staff had not been granted full access to the facility.
“UNHCR reminds Australia of its obligation to take full responsibility and provide effective protection, safety and lasting solutions for all refugees and asylum seekers in cooperation with the Papua New Guinean authorities,” the UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection, Volker Türk, said.
“We urge both governments to engage in constructive dialogue, to de-escalate the tensions and work on urgent lasting solutions to their plight,” he said.
The four-year history of the camp has been marked by violence. In February 2014, during riots when police and other outsiders stormed the detention centre, more than 70 asylum seekers were seriously injured, including having their throats slits with knives, as well as being shot with police weapons. Reza Barati was murdered by contractors who beat him with a nail-spiked stick and dropped a rock on his head.
In 2015, a mass hunger-strike ended with mobile squad police raiding the centre.
On Good Friday this year, drunken soldiers tried to crash a vehicle through the detention centre fence, and fired over 100 shots, including from an M16 assault rifle, at refugees inside.
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