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Papua New Guinea sends sick refugees back to Manus Island ahead of APEC summit

News and Press Release
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By Papua New Guinea correspondent Natalie Whiting

Papua New Guinea is clearing refugees out of its capital city ahead of next week's APEC summit.

More than 20 refugees from Manus Island who had been in Port Moresby for medical treatment have been sent to back to the island, and another 20 refugees who are still in Port Moresby will be flown out this week.

PNG police say it is part of security preparations as the country gets ready to host the region's leaders, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US Vice-President Mike Pence.

"At 4am I was woken up by the shouting of police with a list in his hand," one refugee, who did not want to be identified, told the ABC. "They opened every room with a master key and were looking for the guys in their list."

Police said 21 refugees who had been brought to Port Moresby for medical treatment had now been sent back to Manus Island.

The ABC has not been able to contact any of the refugees who were removed, but another refugee on Manus Island, Behrouz Boochani, said he had spoken with some of the men who were returned.

""Most of them are still sick and they didn't receive medical treatment on Port Moresby but the authorities told them that they will bring them back to Port Moresby after four weeks," he said.

He said some people were worried that would not happen.

"People are so upset and worried," he said.

"Actually, they're scared. They're scared [of] death and that's why these people are so upset."

Mr Boochani said there had been five self-harming or suicide attempts in the past week.

One of them was in Port Moresby.

"He was among those people who were supposed to transfer to Manus and he did that because he was so worried," Mr Boochani said.

"[Afterwards] they didn't send him to Manus, they sent him to a hospital in Port Moresby."
Repatriations are part of APEC preparations

The repatriations come as Port Moresby prepares to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Summit.

When asked during a press conference, PNG's Police Commissioner Gari Baki said the removals were not related to APEC.

"I think this is the normal support that we've been giving to immigration and that's not really part of APEC. It's an activity outside of APEC," he said.

"So it has come at a time when APEC is also on the ground in Papua New Guinea, but it is an ongoing activity."

Another high-ranking police officer then told the ABC that returning the refugees to Manus was about ensuring they were accounted for and said some had absconded while in Port Moresby for treatment.

He insisted those returned to Manus Island had completed their treatment.

But in a statement responding to further questions from the ABC, the PNG Police Department said the repatriations were a part of APEC security.

"A total of 21 refugees in Port Moresby for medical reasons were repatriated to Manus as part of security preparations for the APEC Leaders' Summit in Port Moresby next week," it reads.

"The remaining 20 refugees in Port Moresby will be flown back to Manus refugees Centre either on Thursday or Friday this week on a chartered flight."

Police say since being returned to Manus Island there have been no major incidents and the refugees are being monitored closely.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation