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UN rights chief calls on PNG to safeguard Australia camp refugees

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

Sydney, Australia | AFP | Papua New Guinea is responsible for the human rights of refugees sent to a remote island by Australia, the UN human rights chief has said, as advocates warn the men are living in fear of violence from local residents.

Some 600 men were moved out of an Australian-run camp on PNG’s Manus Island in November to three transit centres after a local court ruled the facility was unconstitutional.

The men have expressed fears for their safety at the centres, and also accused Australian and PNG authorities of not providing them with adequate healthcare.

In a day-long visit to PNG on Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein raised his concerns about the refugees’ plight during meetings with the government.

“The government has the responsibility to ensure that while these individuals are on their territory, they have access to their basic necessities and their basic rights, including the right to adequate housing and food,” the High Commissioner’s spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told AFP Sunday.

Shamdasani added that the High Commissioner had also raised such concerns with Australian officials on a number of occasions publicly and in private meetings.

“He will be following up on the cases of these detainees with Australia as well,” she said.

The men were brought to Manus as part of a harsh Australian immigration policy that bars asylum-seekers who try to reach the country by boat from resettling there.

Their refugee applications are processed on Manus or at another remote camp on Nauru, before successful applicants are resettled in the Pacific nations or other countries.

– US resettlement deal –
But Canberra has struggled to resettle the refugees since the two Pacific sites opened in 2012.

In the past few months, just dozens of refugees from both facilities have been transferred to the United States under a deal struck with former American president Barack Obama, but criticised by current leader Donald Trump.

The Refugee Action Coalition said Sunday that a further 130 refugees on Nauru would be resettled in the United States this month as part of the deal. The advocacy group added that 22 of them would leave Nauru on Sunday.

There was no immediate comment from US officials.

Rights watchdog Amnesty International warned in early February that the new Manus transit centres offered less protection than the previous camps and “do not meet refugees’ basic needs”.

Amnesty added that violence from the local community was also a “constant threat”.

“Refugees told us they had been robbed and assaulted in both Manus Island and Port Moresby. The police have refused to act even on the most serious cases of violence,” Amnesty’s Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said.

“The bottom line is that Papua New Guinea does not provide a safe or sustainable solution for the refugees sent there by Australia.”

Some 338 men, women and children are being held at the Nauru camp, according to Australian immigration figures ending December 31. Canberra no longer publishes figures for Manus after the camp’s closure in November.

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