PORT MORESBY: Only a handful of people remained at a remote migrant detention centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island on Tuesday (Sep 10), as authorities quietly empty a facility often dubbed "Australia's Guantanamo".
Refugees, police and government officials told AFP a maximum of nine people remained at the facility, which has become emblematic of Australia's controversial policy of turning away women, children and men fleeing war zones and detaining them in Pacific camps.
Successive Australian governments argued the policy was needed to deter migrants ready to make the dangerous sea voyage Down Under.
But it has been a political and legal headache for Canberra, prompting tens of millions of dollars of payments in damages and earning the opprobrium of the United Nations.
Papua New Guinea's Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Petrus Thomas told AFP Tuesday that nine migrants – mostly refugees – remained on Manus, which was opened in 2001.
Five of those had built families there and one is involved in local legal proceedings, so is unlikely to leave.
"The rest have been flown to Port Moresby," he said, referring to the 60-plus asylum seekers that had been there until recently.
Manus provincial police commander David Yapu told AFP that transfers had occurred on a daily basis since last week, with most asylum seekers headed for Port Moresby.
One of those was detainee and award-winning author Behrouz Boochani, who told AFP he was transfered there a "few days ago."
Six months ago there were still more than 500 would-be migrants to Australia kept in Papua New Guinea, living in conditions that Amnesty International described as "ta