July 12, 2013
THE United Nations refugee agency has criticised Australia’s immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea, saying it does not meet international standards.
In its second report on the Manus Island processing centre, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said although there were some improvements since its last visit in January, there were still major shortcomings.
Freedom of movement was still “extremely limited”, and living conditions “harsh”, especially for those in the single adult males compound.
“Cramped living quarters were observed, while asylum-seekers reported issues with the heat, privacy, hygiene and access to medical services,” the UNHCR said of its visit in June.
The refugee body also criticised the lack of certainty faced by asylum seekers on Manus, and the slow pace of establishing processing arrangements.
It was “contributing to an all-pervasive sense of frustration and despondency”.
If left for a protracted period it was likely to lead to increased levels of psycho-social harm.
In its first report on the Manus centre, released in February, the UNHCR was scathing of the mandatory detention of children and their families.
The government removed the last remaining children from Manus last week, a move the UNHCR said was a positive development.
“Viewed as a whole, UNHCR considered that the physical environment, restricted legal regime, and slow processing mean that the arrangements currently in place still do not meet the required international protection standards,” it said.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke said he would review the UNHCR report as part of “ongoing considerations into future decisions” about the processing centre, which would next year be replaced by a permanent facility.
“The UNHCR reports continue to provide an important input to benchmarking the progress of the work at Manus Island,” he said in a brief statement.
Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young repeated her call for the Manus Island centre to be shut down.
“These island prisons are factories of mental illness and the government’s indefinite detention of refugees is creating a damaged generation,” she said.