CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Hundreds of people who attempted to seek asylum in Australia defied a Monday deadline to leave a decommissioned immigration camp on Papua New Guinea, where many hold out hope of starting new lives in the United States, police said.
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 379 of the 606 men at the male-only camp in October remained there 13 days later without power or running water, a Papua New Guinea police statement said.
The asylum seekers fear for their safety in the alternative shelters available in the nearby town of Lorengau because of threats from local residents. Australian officials have predicted conflict between asylum seekers and police evicting them.
Manus provincial police commander Chief Inspector David Yapu said in a statement he "will need some clear directives on our next course of action" since the remainder refused to leave voluntarily.
Police had complied with an order from the capital, Port Moresby, not to use force to move the asylum seekers and take them to camps 30 minutes' drive away, Yapu said.
The United States has agreed to resettle up to 1,250 refugees that Australia keeps on Papua New Guinea and the Pacific island nation of Nauru.
But so far only 54 have been accepted after a screening process that President Donald Trump describes as extreme vetting.
Police cordoned off the camp on Monday while immigration officials removed makeshift water stores, Yapu said.
The Australia-based Refugee Action Coalition said officials destroyed property in the camp and attempted to destroy water wells that have sustained the asylum seekers for the past two weeks.
"After four years of unlawful detention, the refugees and asylum seekers are not about to be forced into yet another detention center," coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee last week criticized Australia for allowing the Manus camp to close "without adequate arrangements for long-term viable relocation solutions for all refugees and asylum-seekers."
The committee found conditions in the facilities in Papua New Guinea and Nauru included inadequate mental health services, serious safety concerns and instances of assault, sexual abuse, self-harm and suspicious deaths. The harsh conditions compelled some asylum seekers to return to their homelands despite the risks that they face there, it said.
Australia will not settle any refugees who try to arrive by boat — a policy that the government says dissuades asylum seekers from attempting the dangerous ocean crossing from Indonesia. It has also prevented boats from reaching Australia since July 2014 by using the Australian navy to turn boats back.