The men in immigration detention on Manus Island danced and shouted “Freedom!” on Wednesday afternoon, following an announcement from Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill that the centre would close.
On Tuesday, the five-judge bench of the Papua New Guinea supreme court ruled the Australian offshore detention centre unconstitutional on the basis that it breaches individual human rights.
O’Neill issued a statement Wednesday asking the Australian government to “make alternative arrangements” for the 850 asylum-seekers being held in the centre.
Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani has been in detention on Manus since August 2013. He told BuzzFeed News detainees had put their hopes in Port Moresby following the failure of a legal challenge to offshore detention in the Australian high court in February this year.
“This day was my big dream during the last three years,” Boochani said. “I can feel freedom, it is a really amazing day for me and all prisoners in Manus. I’m happy that eventually the justice smiled to our faces.”
Boochani said the celebrations were stilted at first, as the detainees are used to hearing positive news that doesn’t eventuate.
However, after PNG immigration officials visited the centre on Wednesday to read out the court order, and O’Neill issued the directive for the centre to close, detainees hugged one another, danced, sung, and shouted “Freedom!”.
“This time, they trust in this positive news,” said Boochani. “They can feel freedom by this news and we will have celebrations. Today people were happy and not scared to show their happiness.”
However, the future of the 850 men on Manus Island is uncertain.
Refugee advocates are pushing hard for the men to be brought to Australia. Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition told BuzzFeed News earlier this week the “ball is in the government’s court” to bring the men on Manus to Australia.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young also called on prime minister Turnbull to “end the farce” and bring detainees to Australia.
“There is nowhere else for people to go,” she told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.
However, immigration minister Peter Dutton has said repeatedly that people who came to Australia by boat will never be settled in the country.
“The government has not resiled from its position that people who attempted to come illegally by boat to Australia and who are now in the Manus facility will not be settled in Australia,” he said in a statement following O’Neill’s announcement.
The men found to be refugees could be resettled in Papua New Guinea, Dutton said.
Prime minister O’Neill invited the men who had their claims approved to live in PNG, but “only if they want to be a part of our society and make a contribution to our community”.
"It is clear that several of these refugees do not want to settle in Papua New Guinea and that is their decision,” he said.
Boochani told BuzzFeed News detainees thought PNG was an "unsafe country".
“Nobody wants to live in PNG, because they exiled us to this remote island by force,” he said.
“I protested on top of a tree a few days ago and read a political statement, saying that I have respect to PNG but I don’t want to live here.”
The prospect of resettlement in PNG is particularly frightening for gay and bisexual refugees, as sex between men is an offence under the 1974 Criminal Code.
“Gay people are under such pressure, more than other people, because they wanted to settle them in a country where being homosexual is a crime,” Boochani said.
Boochani has interviewed some of the gay men on Manus and said they “worry more than other detainees”.
“Really PNG is a most dangerous place for gay people, and they are always scared of PNG police,” he said. “I have not see any gay person who would even think about living in PNG.”
BuzzFeed News has previously reported on the gay and bisexual refugees on Manus Island, who live in fear of being assaulted over their sexuality and of the country's harsh laws around homosexuality.
“This place is no better than Iran,” one refugee told BuzzFeed News. “I wish I had died on that boat 100 times a day.”
Boochani is optimistic about his chances of going to Australia.
“I myself am sure that I will go to Australia, because Australia must take us from here and you know that you cannot find a country that will accept us," he said.
Dutton said he would continue working with PNG to resolve the issues raised by the supreme court.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
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