Authorities at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea are reportedly offering asylum seekers large sums of money to return to their home countries. At least a dozen asylum seekers from Nepal and Bangladesh at the detention centre said that they are being called to meet Australian officials and are being pressured to take up to $25,000 (£20,000).
According to Reuters, one of the detainees named Mohammed Bilal, who fled Bangladesh due to political reasons, had met Australian officials last week. "They told me and others that if you go back voluntarily you will get money about $20,000, if you guys go in group you will get more money," Bilal said.
It is not illegal for countries to provide refugees with financial assistance to voluntarily return to the home countries and start afresh. The Australian immigration department in a statement said: "Substantial assistance packages are available to help non-refugees depart voluntarily, return home and re-establish their lives in their home country. In cases where non-refugees refuse to depart voluntarily, the government of PNG [Papua New Guinea] has indicated that it will enforce the removal of those individuals, in accordance with normal international practice."
Reports suggest that there are around 225 people on Manus who are eligible for deportation as they asylum claims have been rejected twice.
Activists and lawyers have raised serious concerns over the deportation process and Sanmati Verma – who represents many people on Nauru and Manus islands – from Clothier Anderson Immigration lawyers said: "The increased focus by the Australian and PNG governments on deporting people with negative protection assessments is deeply troubling.
"All of the circumstances indicate that those people have never had their claims for protection fairly, legally or impartially assessed."
Meanwhile, an official from the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Paul Douglas, told an Australian court that the Manus Island immigration detention centre will be closed by the end of 2017.
"The Papua New Guinean high court has indicated that they want it closed, and certainly the indications from the government are that they are looking that the facility should be closed by the end of this year," he said.
The US had previously under the Obama administration committed to take in 1,250 asylum seekers, who were being held in Nauru and Manus and in return Australia would take in refugees from Central America.
The deal triggered a diplomatic dispute between the close allies, after US President Donald Trump told Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the agreement, brokered by Obama, was a "dumb deal". However, the US has agreed to keep their commitment, subject to "extreme vetting" of refugees.