Australia has agreed to shutter the notorious Manus Island immigration detention center in Papua New Guinea, although it's unclear when that will take place and where the more than 850 asylum seekers currently held there will go.
The announcement comes after thousands of leaked incident reports exposed horrible living conditions and rampant sexual and physical violence in many of Australia's offshore detention centers. In April, Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled the Manus detention center was illegal and unconstitutional.
Australia has long been condemned for its practice of sending asylum seekers who arrive there by boat to offshore detention centers it runs in Manus Island and Nauru, a tiny Pacific island. Many detainees, including children, have spent years in the camps.
The country has also been steadfast in its unwillingness to resettle any of those people, even those who are eventually granted official refugee status.
"It has been the longstanding position of this government to work with PNG to close Manus and support those people as they transition into PNG or return to their country of origin," Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton said on Wednesday.
The government's decision to close Manus was welcomed by human rights advocates, who have been sounding the alarm over the system.
"Nearly a thousand men on Manus have already lost three or more of their years locked up in limbo for no good reason," Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch's Australia director, said in a statement. "They've endured dirty, cramped conditions, inadequate medical care, and violence. Finally it is time to let them move on with their lives in safety and dignity."
But Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist who has been held in the Manus detention for more than three years, told the Guardian that he and other men there are wary of news of the closure.
"People are scared to show they are happy," he said. "They did not mention when they will close this hell prison. We want to know when exactly we will get freedom and where we will go. This is our right to know about our future."
There's no word on whether the detention center on Nauru island, where hundreds of being are kept, will be closed. The leaked incident reports, published by the Guardian this month have prompted calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the offshore detention system.
The incident reports detail a wide range of alleged abuses in the Nauru centers, especially involving children, including self-harm, sexual exploitation by guards.
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