Manus, PNG Asylum Center To Open In A Few Weeks

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Asylum seekers ‘will have freedom of movement’

By Jeffrey Elapa

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Oct. 8, 2012) – The Manus asylum processing centre is ready to take the first lot of asylum seekers within the next few weeks, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said.

O’Neill said after a meeting with Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen at the Prime Minister’s Office at Morauta Haus, in Port Moresby, last Friday: "Work on the processing centre has been completed and the first lot of people would arrive within the next few weeks."

Australian soldiers have been on Manus Island for over a fortnight, rebuilding the dilapidated John Howard-era detention centre.

The number for the first intake had been disclosed, O’Neill added.

He said the establishment of the processing centre was the result of the continuous understanding between the two countries. "Both governments will be working closely with the Manus provincial government to establish and help with its development programmes."

Critics claim the detention plan at Manus Island is illegal because PNG’s constitution only allows for lengthy detentions when someone has been charged with a criminal offence.

But O’Neill said the asylum seekers will not be detained and will have freedom of movement on the island and be subject to the country’s laws.

"Manus Islanders have already stated that they are free to move around in the community as freely as possible," he said. Bowen thanked the government and the people of PNG for accepting the request of the Australian government to house an asylum centre.

He said the centre was important to Australia to save the lives of people who seek refuge.

Bowen, who flew into Port Moresby after visiting the Nauru asylum centre, met with the Manus Governor Charlie Benjamin in Port Moresby and discussed development and contact opportunities in Manus.

He said service providers had been told to consider benefits for the people of Manus.

O’Neill said the issue of stringent visa laws of Australia for Papua New Guineans was discussed and that talks were still going on to ease visa requirements.

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