The detention center used by Australia to house asylum seekers on Manus Island will close, Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced Wednesday, after the nation’s Supreme Court ruled that the confinement of refugees at the camp was illegal.
“PNG [Papua New Guinea] will immediately ask the Australian Government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers currently held at the regional processing center,” O’Neill said in a statement, according to the Guardian. “We did not anticipate the asylum seekers to be kept as long as they have at the Manus center.”
About 850 men, half of whom have been awarded refugee status, are held on the tiny Pacific island north of PNG. On Tuesday, the nation’s Supreme Court found the offshore processing center unconstitutional, ruling that it violates detainees’ right to personal liberty.
Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton distanced Canberra from the court’s ruling, reiterating that the Manus refugees would not be accepted in Australia. “This is a decision of the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea,” Dutton said in a statement. “Australia was not a party to the legal proceedings.”
“Those in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre found to be refugees are able to resettle in Papua New Guinea,” Dutton’s statement continues. “Those found not to be refugees should return to their country of origin.”
Australia’s hard-line approach to asylum seekers who arrive by boat — by transferring them to detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru — has drawn criticism from human-rights groups and the U.N. refugee agency. In 2014, a report from Australian Human Rights Commission found evidence of abuse on Nauru, including allegations of sexual assault of children.
A time frame for the camp’s closure still needs to be decided, PNG’s Prime Minister said.