STEPHANIE NEBEHAY | Reuters
GENEVA - The United Nations human rights office has called on Australia to restore food, water and health services to about 600 interned refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, which Canberra cut off four 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 spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing.
Mr Colville said Australia has an obligation to do so under international human rights law and the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.
There was no immediate comment from Australia or its representatives in Geneva. The Australian government has said the camp had been ruled illegal by PNG authorities and it had committed to supply other sites for 12 months.
Mr 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.
“We repeat our overall concerns about Australian offshore processing centres which are unsustainable, inhumane and contradictory to its human rights obligations,” Mr Colville said.
“We have conveyed to the Australian government, and to the government of PNG as well, that until the time the accommodation is ready, refugees should not be moved there,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said.
“But also we have urged Australia and PNG to de-escalate the situation, resume basic services - water, electricity, medical services as well,” he said.
The last food distribution was on Sunday, he said.
“Australia’s policy of deterrence by rescuing people at sea, mistreating them and abandoning them has become a notion of cruelty,” Mr Baloch said.