Australia, Papua New Guinea agree to close Manus Island detention centre

Asylum seekers look at the media from behind a fence at the Manus Island detention centre, Papua New Guinea in this picture taken March 21, 2014. AAP/Eoin Blackwell/via REUTERS

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Papua New Guinea and Australia said Wednesday they have agreed to close a detention centre on Manus Island for asylum seekers but they offered no details on when it will happen or on the fate of the 850 men being held there.

Australia’s tough stance on migrants and refugees has long drawn condemnation from human rights groups. The country has a policy of sending people who try to reach its shores by boat to island detention centres, including Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

Leaked documents and eyewitness reports have detailed grim living conditions in many of Australia’s detention centres. In April, Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled that the Australian-run detention centre there was unconstitutional.

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Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill issued a statement Wednesday saying he met with Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in the capital, Port Moresby, and that the two countries agreed the centre will be closed.

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O’Neill said he was satisfied that officials from both countries were making progress toward that end.

“It is important that this process is not rushed but carried out in a careful manner,” O’Neill said in his statement. “This must take into account the interests of the people of Papua New Guinea and the wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees.”

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Dutton said it had been the longstanding position of his government to work with Papua New Guinea to close the Manus centre and to move the migrants elsewhere in Papua New Guinea or back to their country of origin.

“Our position, confirmed again today with PNG, is that no one from Manus Island Regional Processing Centre will ever be settled in Australia,” Dutton said in a statement.

He said that “people smugglers” continue to target Australia but that the government has ensured that no boats have made it to the nation’s shores in more than two years. He said the government plans to close a total of 17 detention centres and remove all children from detention.

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Earlier this month, the Guardian newspaper published leaked reports detailing the abuse of children at another offshore Australian detention centre, on the remote island nation of Nauru.

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And last month, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a sweeping investigation into alleged abuses at a juvenile detention centre in the city of Darwin after a video emerged of Aboriginal teens being tear-gassed, stripped naked and shackled to a chair.

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