The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has asked Papua New Guinea authorities to “show calm and restraint in the context of the closure” of the decommissioned refugee detention camp on Manus Island.
Water, electricity and food supplies have been cut to the centre since more than a week ago and the PNG government on Thursday warned refugees and asylum seekers, who are huddled in the Australian-run facility, to leave within two days.
PNG authorities have destroyed shelter and water storage at the decommissioned detention centre on Manus Island in a bid to move about 600 refugees and asylum seekers, who are refusing to relocate to new facilities.
“UNHCR is urging that a humane approach is taken now in an increasingly complex situation,” a UN statement said on Friday.
“Forced movement of these refugees and asylum-seekers is inappropriate and should be avoided.”
Videos received by dpa showed police and immigration officials entering the compound of the camp, tearing down makeshift shelters and releasing water from storage tanks and rubbish bins.
The detainees had constructed the shelters as the permanent structures were too hot to live in after electricity to the camp was cut last week.
“We had built the shelter to provide shade and cover from tropical sun and rain,” said Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish-Iranian refugee in the camp.
Authorities returned a second time and destroyed water storage, Boochani said.
“Greater understanding is needed for the perspectives of these vulnerable human beings, who have already suffered immensely,” Thomas Albrecht, UNHCR’s Regional Representative in Canberra, said.
“People, who have experienced unspeakable persecution and human rights violations need protection, not punishment.”
The UNHCR also said Australia has a responsibility to urgently find appropriate long-term solutions for all, who have sought its protection.
Earlier, an Australian minister said the refugees were “squatting.”
Christopher Pyne, a cabinet minister, said on Friday the men refused to take options available, including moving to new facilities or return to their country of origin.
“All those people in Manus Island, who are at that detention centre are effectively squatting there,” Pyne told broadcaster Channel Nine.
But the refugees, living in squalid condition, have refused to move to three new temporary facilities – parts of which are not yet completed – near the island’s main town of Lorengau due to fears of being attacked by locals.
“Activists in Australia telling them to stay there and they will get to Australia are lying to them and that is unfortunately the situation,” Pyne said.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is in Vietnam to attend the APEC regional summit, said the new facilities are fully-equipped and adequate, contrary to what the UN has said.
“They are acting in a way contrary to the interests of those refugees and other residents,” Turnbull said, adding that the refugees must follow the PNG law.
PNG’s Supreme Court ordered the centre to close because it was unconstitutional and illegal.
The UN has described the Manus Island stand-off as an unfolding “humanitarian crisis.’’