Dutton issues warning ahead of Manus deadline

Refugees and asylum seekers protesting inside the now-closed regional processing facility on Manus Island, which they refuse to leave.
Refugees and asylum seekers protesting inside the now-closed regional processing facility on Manus Island, which they refuse to leave.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says the Australian government does not want any violence on Manus Island after Papua New Guinean authorities threatened to forcibly evict hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers from the now-decommissioned detention centre.

On Friday, PNG officials began dismantling makeshift shelters and emptying water supplies used by the detainees over the 10 days since the centre was shut down. The government has called on the men to leave by Saturday and warned that "force may be used" if they don't comply voluntarily.

Mr Dutton has also cautioned that, according to the government's intelligence, the ongoing stand-off is being closely monitored by people in south-east Asia looking for a chance to travel to Australia aboard a people smuggling boat.

"We've got group of core agitators, of organisers, who I think will try and provide some sort of scene where there is a confrontation with police. They will do that because they want that footage broadcast back here," the Immigration Minister told radio station 3AW on Friday.

He made clear Australia would not be shifting its policies and said the government, in consultations with PNG over the Manus shutdown, had "made it very clear we don't want to see any violence, we want to see people move voluntarily".

Since Thursday, local authorities have been removing the security fencing surrounding the compound and the detainees' improvised facilities.

"Police and Immigration destroyed our shelters. Inside the rooms is very hot without power for fans. We built these shelters to provide shade and cover from tropical sun and rain," Kurdish-Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani said from inside the centre.

"They destroyed the rubbish bins where we have been collecting water too."

Detainees have been refusing to relocate to new "transit centres" established closer to the island's main town of Lorengau. While the Australian and PNG governments insist they are ready for an influx of 600 people, refugee advocates and UN refugee agency UNHCR have disputed this.

The protesting men - the vast majority of whom have refugee status - have cited fears for their safety around Lorengau and their desperation for permanent resettlement in a third country.

Fresh footage and images - covertly captured by activist group GetUp! and published on Friday - has laid bare the brutal squalor that has developed inside the decommissioned compound since its power, water, food and sanitation services were terminated on October 31.

Dismissing the new material, Mr Dutton suggested the detainees had intentionally "trashed the accommodation".

"The conditions we see in the photographs today do not resemble at all the conditions in which people have been living over a long period of time," he said.

Amid renewed calls for the detainees to be evacuated, Mr Dutton said: "All of the intelligence that I see and there's chatter at the moment up in Indonesia and elsewhere ... says people are watching this very closely and their view is that if they can hold it out on Manus or Nauru for a couple of years and then come to Australia, that's worth paying the people smugglers for."

A spokeswoman for UN refugee agency UNHCR, which has been visiting Manus in recent days, warned that "forced movement of these refugees and asylum seekers is inappropriate and should be avoided".

This story Dutton issues warning ahead of Manus deadline first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.