Australia asylum: Group break out of PNG centre amid tensions

File photo: facilities at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility, used for the detention of asylum seekers that arrive by boat, primarily to Christmas Island off the Australian mainland, on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. 16 October 2012 There are around 1,300 asylum seekers housed on Manus Island

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Several asylum seekers briefly escaped from Australia's detention centre in Papua New Guinea, breaking a fence and sustaining some injuries, an Australian minister has confirmed.

Around 35 asylum seekers broke out of the centre on Sunday, but were quickly located and returned, he said.

Eight were arrested and 19 were given medical treatment, he added.

Manus Island hosts one of Australia's offshore processing camps for asylum seekers.

Conditions in the camp, and in another centre on Nauru, have been the subject of stringent criticism from both UN agencies and human rights groups.

The incident came after "much-heightened" tensions at the detention centre, Mr Morrison said, as detainees "became agitated" after they were told would be resettled in PNG and "a third country option will not be offered".

Australia-PNG Regional Resettlement Arrangement

  • Papua New Guinea undertakes to accept unauthorised maritime arrivals for processing and, if successful in their application for refugee status, resettlement
  • Persons found not to be refugees may be held in detention or returned to their home country or a country where they had right of residence
  • Australia will provide support to any refugees who are resettled in Papua New Guinea
  • Australia will bear the full cost of implementing the arrangement in Papua New Guinea
  • The programme will be for 12 months and will be subject to review on an annual basis

Source: Australia-PNG Regional Resettlement Arrangement

"There were 35 transferees who, following a meeting with some of the local centre staff about a range of issues, took down a section of fence and they absconded from the centre," he told Australian media.

Non-essential staff were evacuated as detainees knocked down fences and smashed glass panels and bunk beds, he said.

The escaped asylum seekers were "quickly located" and the incident ended after one and a quarter hours, he added.

'Left in limbo'

The previous Labor government decided to re-establish offshore processing camps on Nauru and Manus Island in 2012, after ending the policy - known as the Pacific Solution - in 2008.

It also said that people found to be refugees would be settled in Papua New Guinea, not Australia, a policy the current Liberal-National government has agreed to uphold.

However, the details of the agreement between Australia and PNG are still to be confirmed.

Last week, PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato said that the government would appoint a group of "eminent Papua New Guineans" and seek expertise from the UN and Australia to determine "whether those asylum seekers will or will not be settled in PNG".

File photo: Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison Scott Morrison said the asylum seekers on Manus island would not be resettled in Australia

Mr Morrison, meanwhile, on Monday said that the Manus Island centre was "not restricted to being a temporary accommodation" and that there was a "possibility" it could be used as a permanent home for refugees resettled on PNG.

Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, told the BBC he had spoken to some of the asylum seekers in the centre, and that they felt they were "effectively left in limbo and confined to Manus Island or PNG".

They also believed it was "unclear if they would be formally resettled in PNG because the PNG government has no formal refugee determination process", he added.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told ABC on Monday: "[PNG] Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has reassured me repeatedly that the same deal that was on offer to the former government remains on offer."

"My understanding is that there has been no such information given to people that they'll never be resettled in PNG."

Asylum is a sensitive issue in Australia, despite the relatively small numbers involved. UNHCR's Asylum Trends 2012 report said Australia received only 3% of global asylum applications in 2012.

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