WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Papua New Guinea and Australia said Wednesday they have agreed to close a detention center on Manus Island for asylum seekers but they offered no details on when it will happen or on the fate of the 850 men being held there.
Australia's tough stance on migrants and refugees has long drawn condemnation from human rights groups. The country has a policy of sending people who try to reach its shores by boat to island detention centers, including Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Leaked documents and eyewitness reports have detailed grim living conditions in many of Australia's detention centers. In April, Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled that the Australian-run detention center there was unconstitutional.
Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O'Neill issued a statement Wednesday saying he met with Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in the capital, Port Moresby, and that the two countries agreed the center will be closed.
O'Neill said he was satisfied that officials from both countries were making progress toward that end.
"It is important that this process is not rushed but carried out in a careful manner," O'Neill said in his statement. "This must take into account the interests of the people of Papua New Guinea and the wellbeing of asylum seekers and refugees."
Dutton said it had been the longstanding position of his government to work with Papua New Guinea to close the Manus center and to move the migrants elsewhere in Papua New Guinea or back to their country of origin.
"Our position, confirmed again today with PNG, is that no one from Manus Island Regional Processing Centre will ever be settled in Australia," Dutton said in a statement.
He said that "people smugglers" continue to target Australia but that the government has ensured that no boats have made it to the nation's shores in more than two years. He said the government plans to close a total of 17 detention centers and remove all children from detention.
Earlier this month, the Guardian newspaper published leaked reports detailing the abuse of children at another offshore Australian detention center, on the remote island nation of Nauru.
And last month, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a sweeping investigation into alleged abuses at a juvenile detention center in the city of Darwin after a video emerged of Aboriginal teens being tear-gassed, stripped naked and shackled to a chair.
Associated Press writer Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.