Asylum seekers protest possible closure of the detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. Photo: Australia Broadcasting Company / Associated Press

3 November 2017 (Thomson Reuters) – The United Nations human rights office called on Australia on Friday to restore food, water, and health services to about 600 interned refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, which Canberra cut off three days ago.

The detainees in the Manus Island Centre have defied attempts by the governments of both Australia and PNG to close the camp, saying they fear violent reprisals from the local community if they are moved to other "transit centres."

"We call on the Australian government … who interned the men in the first place to immediately provide protection, food, water, and other basic services," UN rights spokesperson Rupert Colville told a news briefing.

Australia has an obligation to do so under international human rights law and the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, he said.

There was no immediate comment from Australia or its representatives in Geneva. Its government has said the camp had been ruled illegal by PNG authorities and it had committed to supply other sites for 12 months.

Colville joined the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in warning of an "unfolding humanitarian emergency" in the centre where asylum seekers began digging wells on Thursday to try to find water as their food supplies dwindled.

The remote Manus Island centre has been a key part of Australia's disputed immigration policy under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, detaining them instead in PNG and Nauru in the South Pacific.

For four years, Australia has paid Papua New Guinea, its nearest neighbour, and Nauru to house asylum seekers who attempt to reach the Australian coast by boat. They include Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, Afghans, Iranians, Sri Lankans and other nationalities, and are almost entirely men.

The impending closure of the camp is part of an Australian government plan to push refugees and asylum seekers to either return to their home country, settle in PNG or move elsewhere, thereby disbanding part of Australia's controversial and expensive offshore detention program.

Service providers and contractors have left the island, according to Australian media reports.

"We repeat our overall concerns about Australian offshore processing centres which are unsustainable, inhumane, and contradictory to its human rights obligations," Colville said. [more]

UN implores Australia to resume feeding 'starving' refugees at remote camp


Detainees at the Manus Island Centre in Papua New Guinea dig holes to find drinking water on 1 November 2017, after the government of Australia abandoned them. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

3 November 2017 – The United Nations human rights office on Friday expressed its concern over “an unfolding humanitarian emergency” at Australia's offshore detention centre, where refugees and asylum seekers are holding out after the Australian Government's decision to close the facility and pull out its support staff.

“We share the concerns of other UN agencies … about what is an unfolding humanitarian emergency,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) at a press briefing in Geneva, explaining that food, water and other basic services have been cut off since the Australian Government shuttered the Regional Processing Centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea on 31 October.

Repeating its overall concerns about Australia's offshore processing centres, which “are unsustainable, inhumane, and contrary to its human rights obligations,” OHCHR urged Australia to transfer the 600 men to its mainland where their claims can be processed.

“We have serious concerns about the welfare, safety and well-being of the roughly 600 men who remain in the accommodation compound, who are too frightened to leave,” the spokesperson said, noting that the men have said they fear violence at the hands of locals if they leave the compound, given violent incidents in the past.

“All migrants, including refugees and asylum-seekers, are human beings. Like all of us, they have a right to a safe and secure environment, a right to an adequate standard of living and to participate in the decision-making process that is affecting their future,” Mr. Colville said.

UN concerned over 'unfolding humanitarian emergency' at Australia's offshore processing centre

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