International desk, November 02: Alternative accommodation for asylum seekers being held by Australia in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is not yet fit to live in, the UN refugee agency says.A senior official who visited the sites told Australia’s ABC radio he found “major earthworks in progress”.
Australia has held asylum seekers who arrive by boat on both Manus Island (in PNG) and Nauru, a small Pacific nation.
However, the Manus Island centre was shut on Tuesday after a PNG court ruled last year that it was unconstitutional.
Under its controversial policy, Australia refuses to take in anyone trying to reach its territories unofficially by boat. They are all intercepted and held in the Nauru and Manus Island detention centres.
Nat Jit Lam, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regional representative, said: “I will not be bringing any refugee there to stay – not in that state.
“There was heavy machinery on the ground as well, there were no fences being constructed.”
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said it made “no sense” for the detainees to remain in the centre when there was alternative accommodation, but Australia would not guarantee their safety in the local community.
About 600 men are refusing to leave for the temporary facilities in the town of Lorengau, saying they fear attacks by locals. They have lost access to running water and electricity, and their food supplies are dwindling. The men have dug holes in the ground and set up catchments to collect water but much of it is being stored in rubbish bins, one refugee told the BBC.
The former detainees say they are suffering from dehydration, starvation and anxiety.
Refugees told the BBC that PNG immigration officials arrived outside the centre on Wednesday, and they feared being forcibly removed
Detainees also reported that armed local residents looted the compound on Tuesday after security guards left.
Behrouz Boochani, a journalist and Iranian refugee who has been held on Manus Island since August 2014, wrote on Twitter that many of the men in the centre were physically and mentally unwell.