A stand-off is looming between more than 600 refugees and asylum seekers, who are refusing to leave the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre, and the local authorities planning to close the facility.
As advocates warned of possible violence, immigration officials confirmed on Monday that electricity, water and food would no longer be provided at the centre when the PNG Defence Force reclaims the site on November 1.
Instead, most of the 606 detainees who remain will be relocated to two sites at East Lorengau and West Lorengau while the Trump administration considers whether to resettle them under a refugee swap deal. The New Daily revealed the location of the first site last month.
Of that group, 141 people who have not been granted refugee status will be housed at another site, named Hillside Haus, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Question Time on Monday.
Despite the impending closure, detainees remain at the centre as the closure date approaches, protesting their removal, asylum seeker and Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani told The New Daily.
He said refugees were concerned about their safety at the new site because “the local people don’t want us in their small community”.
They are also fearful about what will happen when the Papua New Guinea defence force reclaims the former Navy base. Detainees were shot at by PNG soldiers in April, detainees said at the time.
On Monday morning, Immigration and Border Protection chief Mike Pezzullo clashed with Senator Nick McKim over the looming stand-off at a Senate Estimates hearing, with the Greens politician accusing the government of “torturing” asylum seekers.
“I reject any assertion that this department has been torturing anyone. The only torture I am aware of is sometimes when we have to appear here,” Mr Pezzullo said, apparently joking.
Senator McKim reacted angrily to the comment, as did Labor MP Andrew Giles, who said on Twitter it was “completely unacceptable”.
Over the next 12 months, the federal government will pay between $150 and $250 million on housing, food, security, employment services and healthcare for the asylum seekers, officials said.
Senator McKim said the government was trying to “starve out” the asylum seekers by denying them food and water and electricity.
“Don’t you think you’re risking a human rights disaster here and potentially a mass loss of life?” he said.
Mr Pezzullo said services would be provided at the new locations.
He said what would happen to those who refused to leave the site was “completely a matter for the authorities in Papua New Guinea”.
“It’s a naval establishment, so presumably the defence force has a say, the government generally has a say, and the immigration and citizenship service agency has a say.”
Asked if the asylum seekers would be removed by force, he said he assumed the “ordinary laws of trespass” would apply.
He said he believed the asylum seekers were being animated by activists who told them relocation would mean they were a “step further away from ever coming to Australia”.
Former Manus MP Ron Knight told The New Daily the potential for “trouble” was “very real”.
Manus police commander David Yapu said the police would not use force to remove the protesting asylum seekers after October 31.
“We must comply with their human rights under law,” he told The New Daily.
Asked if he knew what would happen after October 31, Mr Yapu replied: “That’s a good question.”
But Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said it was “worse than ridiculous” that a clinic at the East Lorengau site could “deal with the complex physical and mental issues among the refugees”.