Sydney :The United Nations warned of an “unfolding humanitarian emergency” at an Australian detention centre in Papua New Guinea on Thursday, calling on Canberra to defuse a tense days-long stand-off between refugees and authorities.
The Manus Island camp, set up to hold and process asylum-seekers under Australia’s harsh immigration policy, was officially closed Tuesday after it was ruled unconstitutional by PNG’s Supreme Court.
But some 600 men have locked themselves inside despite water and electricity being cut and dwindling food supplies, saying they are fearful for their safety if they move to transition centres amid reports locals do not want them there.
“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, today reiterates its call to Australia to stop a humanitarian emergency unfolding on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea,” the organisation said in a statement.
Describing the situation as “increasingly tense and unstable”, the agency said there was inadequate accommodation outside the camp for all of the men, with one centre still incomplete.
Within the camp, they were storing water in garbage bins to sustain themselves, UNHCR said. One Manus detainee, an Iranian called Behrouz Boochani, tweeted Thursday that refugees were “digging into the ground to find water”.
“As the days go by where they have no water and no electricity, I think the tensions will just go up higher,” UNHCR representative Lam Nai Jit told AFP from Manus Island, adding that the weather was “extremely hot and humid”.
He said unease between the refugees and local communities had grown due to a lack of consultation when the transition centres were being constructed.
“The local population have not been prepared… that creates an environment of high risk for both sides,” he said.
Lam added that while he had been in contact with PNG authorities, who assured him the detainees would not be forcibly transferred, he had not heard from Australian officials, who had mostly left the area.-AFP