Authorities have started to dismantle the detention center on Manus Island, as an estimated 600 refugees and asylum seekers refuse to leave the site amid an ongoing week long standoff.
Almost 60 people have voluntarily left the center on buses that had been waiting outside to take them to new facilities, according to a statement Friday from Papua New Guinea (PNG) police.
The operation, codenamed “Helping Friends,” would use buses and trucks to transport the refugees to their new centers “without (the) use of force,” Manus Provincial Police Commander Chief Inspector David Yapu said in the statement.
He added police would deal with any situations which arose during the transfer “in a professional manner.”
On Thursday, PNG police told the refugees remaining in the formerly Australian-run center they had two days to get out or they would be forced to leave.
“If necessary, force may be used to relocate those who refuse to move voluntarily for your own sake,” said a statement distributed to refugees.
Speaking to CNN, refugee Aziz Adam said the authorities hadn’t told them anything Friday before they moved in and “started to break things.”
Around 600 refugees have been without food and water for over a week after services were shut off at the Manus Island center, which officially closed on October 31.
The refugees, detained in the center for years, say if they leave they risk being attacked by locals who don’t want them living in their town.
Unlike the existing facility, which is located on a secured site far from residential areas, the proposed new facilities are located in the town of Lorengau.
The site’s closure follows a PNG Supreme Court ruling last year, that the refugees — who were not allowed to leave the Australian-run immigration center — were being deprived of their personal liberty.