Papua New Guinea to Close Refugee Camp in Blow to Australia

  • Supreme Court ruled Manus Island center was unconstitutional
  • Camp is central to Australian efforts against people smuggling

Papua New Guinea said it will close an island camp that holds more than 800 refugees seeking asylum in Australia, complicating Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s border protection policies only weeks before an expected election.

The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled Tuesday that detaining refugees at the Manus Island processing center was unconstitutional and ordered the camp shut. Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said Wednesday Australia must make “alternative arrangements” for the asylum seekers held there.

The Liberal-National coalition now led by Turnbull won power in 2013 vowing to stop a surge of refugees attempting to arrive in Australia by sea, often ferried by people smugglers from Indonesia. While the policy of sending them to Manus Island and Nauru has halted the flow, and cut the number of refugees drowning at sea, it has been condemned by bodies such as the United Nations for breaching human rights.

With Turnbull expected to call an election for July 2, the development may add a wrinkle to his campaign. He trails the Labor opposition in opinion polls and has indicated he’ll focus the government’s re-election efforts on bread and butter economic issues like housing. While Labor also had a policy in government of sending undocumented asylum seekers to camps in Papua New Guinea, the minority Greens have called on Turnbull to let them come to Australia.

O’Neill said he was proud of the part Manus Island had played in a policy that had “stopped many people from losing their lives at sea.” Legitimate refugees held at the camp would be welcome to settle in Papua New Guinea, he added.

Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said earlier Wednesday that refugees on Manus Island wouldn’t be resettled in Australia.

“We’ll work with PNG and provide what support is needed to them to help people return to their country of origin or to a third country,” Dutton told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “But we’ve been very clear, and I repeat it again today, that these people will not be coming to Australia.”

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