PNG police move in on closed Australia refugee camp on Manus

Australia's Manus Island refugee camp was closed after a PNG Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional, and some 600 refugees were told to relocate to three nearby transition centres (AFP Photo/Handout) (Abdul Aziz Adam/AFP/File)

Sydney (AFP) - Papua New Guinea police moved into the shuttered Australian refugee camp on the country's Manus Island Thursday in the most aggressive push yet to force hundreds of men to leave, the Australian government and detainees said.

The police operation was confirmed by Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who said Canberra was "very keen for people to move out of the Manus regional processing centre".

"I think it's outrageous that people are still there," he told Sydney commercial radio station 2GB. "We want people to move."

Iranian Behrouz Boochani tweeted from inside the camp earlier Thursday, writing that "police have started to break the shelters, water tanks and are saying 'move, move'".

"Navy soldiers are outside the prison camp. We are on high alert right now. We are under attack," he said, adding that two refugees were in need of urgent medical treatment.

Other refugees posted photos to social media sites showing police entering the camp, which Australia declared closed on October 31 after the PNG Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

A human rights campaigner from Australian activist group GetUp Shen Narayanasamy told AFP she had heard there were buses parked outside the camp, although police "have not as yet forcibly dragged anyone" to them.

Australian Federal Police said in a statement to AFP that they had one liaison officer on Manus, but no personnel were in the camp or involved in the police operation.

Australia had shut off electricity and water supplies to the camp and demanded that some 600 asylum-seekers detained there move to three nearby transition centres.

Around 400 of the asylum-seekers have refused to leave, saying they fear for their safety in a local population which opposes their presence on the island.

They also say the three transition centres are not fully operational, with a lack of security, sufficient water or electricity.

Meanwhile, PNG Supreme Court is due to hear on December 15 an appeal against its ruling earlier this month that the camp's basic services were not to be restored, lawyer Ben Lomai told AFP Thursday.

- Refugees 'need help' -

Canberra sends asylum-seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to detention camps in Manus Island and Nauru under a harsh immigration policy, and blocks them from resettling in Australia.

PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki on Tuesday said his officers would not use force to move the men.

"The refugees will be asked politely to pack up and voluntarily leave the centre," the police said in a statement Tuesday.

"(Baki) is confident the operation will be carried out successfully and in an orderly manner."

Canberra has strongly rejected calls to move the refugees to Australia and instead has tried to resettle them in third countries, including the United States.

But so far, just 54 refugees have been accepted by Washington, with 24 flown to America in September.

Despite widespread criticism, Canberra has defended its offshore processing policy as stopping deaths at sea after a spate of drownings.

The camps' conditions have been slammed by human rights groups amid reports of widespread abuse, self-harm and mental health problems.

Former Australians of the Year on Thursday called for the refugees to be given immediate medical help an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the leader of the main Labor opposition party Bill Shorten.

"This is not who we are as Australians or indeed as human beings," the letter said, adding: "We believe that it is time to stop the unacceptable and internationally criticised treatment of the refugees."

The Australian Medical Association on Sunday called on Canberra to allow doctors to help the refugees, warning there was a "worsening and more dangerous situation emerging on Manus".