TEHRAN – The UN warned of a deepening crisis Tuesday after another asylum-seeker was found dead at a Pacific island detention camp, urging Australia to ensure protection for vulnerable refugees as closure of the facility nears.
Canberra sends anyone who tries to enter the country by boat without a visa to remote processing facilities in Nauru and on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, with no hope of being settled in Australia.
A PNG court ruled last year that holding people on Manus was unconstitutional, and the camp is set to shut in October, with tensions rising, AFP reported.
The death on Manus Monday of a 28-year-old Iranian refugee, who was found hanging from a tree by children near their school, “highlights the precarious situation for vulnerable people” there, the UN Refugee Agency said in a statement.
It added that it was “gravely concerned” by the deteriorating conditions and warned of an “escalating crisis.”
About 800 men are held on Manus and the UN says they have been told to relocate elsewhere in PNG or return to their country of origin. Medical and security services are due to cease in October.
“The announcement of the closure of the centre, in the absence of appropriate alternatives, is causing acute distress among refugees and asylum-seekers,” the UN Refugee Agency said in a statement.
“Many fear for their safety outside the centre, particularly in the wake of several violent incidents in recent years.”
There have been allegations of assault and threats against refugees by local residents, with the Manus camp being targeted in the past.
Refugees have been offered a transfer to impoverished Cambodia or to be assessed for entry to the United States, although it remains unclear how many Washington will accept with President Donald Trump reluctant to resettle any.
Conditions in the camp, and the other one on Nauru, have been criticized by refugee advocates and medical professionals, with reports of widespread abuse, self-harm and mental health problems.
Rights groups said the Iranian was the fifth held on Manus to die since Canberra’s offshore regime began in July 2013.
PNG police have ruled out foul play but refugee support groups have raised doubts over the declaration.
Canberra has long held that even those attempting to arrive by boat subsequently found to be genuine refugees would never be allowed to settle in Australia.
The UN last month accused the Australian government of backing out of a commitment to relax its strong stance and resettle some refugees held offshore with family ties in Australia.
It again renewed its call Monday for Canberra “to urgently find viable, humane solutions outside of Papua New Guinea and Nauru for those remaining under offshore processing arrangements”.