CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — More than 500 asylum seekers remained in a decommissioned Australian immigration camp in Papua New Guinea on Wednesday despite a court ruling that authorities no longer need to supply power, food and water.
The camp inside a Manus Island navy base was declared closed on Oct. 31 based on the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court’s ruling last year that Australia’s policy of housing asylum seekers there was unconstitutional. But the men who have stayed at the male-only camp on Lombrun Navy Base fear for their safety in the alternative shelters available in the nearby town of Lorengau because of threats from local residents.
Papua New Guinea police Chief Superintendent Dominic Kakas said by Wednesday 38 asylum seekers had left the camp since the Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an application to restore basic services on human rights grounds.
That meant 54 asylum seekers of the 606 in the camp had left since the camp officially closed in October, Kakas said.
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“We’re hoping in the next couple of days or so” the remainder will leave, Kakas said.
Australian Immigration and Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton rejected security concerns about the Lorengau premises, a 30-minute drive from the naval base.
For four years, Australia has paid Papua New Guinea, its nearest neighbor, and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru to house asylum seekers who attempt to reach the Australian coast by boat. They are Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Afghans, Iranians, Sri Lankans and other nationalities.
Australia has recognized that many of the asylum seekers are refugees who cannot return to their homelands, but it refuses to resettle anyone who tried to reach the country by boat in a policy it credits with dissuading such dangerous ocean crossings. Some whose refugee claims were denied have been forcibly sent home.
The United States has resettled 54 of them in recent weeks and is considering taking almost 1,200 more.