UNHCR Urges Australia to Stop Unfolding Humanitarian Emergency

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today reiterates its call to Australia to stop a humanitarian emergency unfolding on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
 
UNHCR has been monitoring the situation on Manus Island in anticipation of the closure of the ‘Regional Processing Centre’ and the reduction or discontinuation of critical services and support arrangements. Two staff members are currently on the ground and have had the opportunity to observe the closure process firsthand. This is a brief summary of UNHCR’s findings as of 2 November 2017.
 
More than 600 people currently remain at the ‘Regional Processing Centre’ located on Manus Island. Despite the cutting of water and electricity on 31 October, most have told UNHCR of their intention to remain due to fears for their security if they are forced to move outside.
 
Refugees and asylum-seekers have resorted to storing water in garbage bins and building makeshift rain catchment systems. The last food ration was delivered on 29 October and was only sufficient for less than two days. With the departure of service providers and Australian Border Force, medical support and security services are no longer available at the ‘Regional Processing Centre’.
 
If all 600 individuals were to leave immediately, many would not find adequate or sufficient accommodation elsewhere. The East Lorengau Regional Transit Centre was only intended for temporary accommodation and has limited capacity. There is no security fence at 'West Lorengau Haus' or 'Hillside Haus' in the Ward 1 area of Lorengau. UNHCR observed on 30 October that construction of ‘West Lorengau Haus’ is incomplete. Containers are surrounded by mud and do not have electrical or water connections as yet. Construction is being significantly hampered by rain.
 
UNHCR has met with government authorities, including the Police and the Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority, who have noted that tensions within the local community are on the rise, partly due to the lack of consultation prior to the movement of refugees and asylum-seekers outside of the ‘Regional Processing Centre.’ Local government officials point to a lack of case workers and interpreters as well as inadequate local hospital facilities as particularly worrying. UNHCR staff have spoken with local community leaders and landowners who describe settlement of refugees and asylum-seekers in the community as “inappropriate”.
 
Welfare arrangements, including critical torture and trauma counselling services, are insufficient at present for refugees and asylum-seekers on Manus Island. Only four Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority caseworkers are providing assistance to a population of over 700 refugees and asylum-seekers.
 
UNHCR urges the Australian Government to work with the Papua New Guinean authorities to immediately de-escalate an increasingly tense and unstable situation. Australia remains responsible for the well-being of all those moved to Papua New Guinea until adequate, long-term solutions outside the country are found. UNHCR urges Australia to take responsibility and provide protection and safety to these vulnerable human beings.

Media Enquiries
In Canberra, Catherine Stubberfield, +61 424 545 569, stubberf@unhcr.org