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Australian bishops urge action over 600 asylum seekers fearing for their life on Manus

manus island protesters

Public stand: Protesters at a Brisbane rally supporting the asylum seekers on Manus Island. Photo: Supplied.

AMID public protests, vigils and picketing of politician’s offices, the Catholic Church and United Nations are

spearheading criticism of the Australian Government over its handling of asylum seekers on Manus Island.

The future of about 600 men left on Manus remains in limbo after their refusal to leave the processing centre amid fears for their safety.

The PNG Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch application to restore power, water, food, sanitation and medical services to the centre.

“The situation on Manus Island is turning into a humanitarian disaster and it is a direct result of our governments’ failed policy,” Bishop Delegate for Migrants and Refugees, Parramatta Bishop Vincent Long said.

“As a nation that prides itself on its respect for the rule of law and its globally responsible citizenship, we must find a workable and principled solution.”

At the time of going to press, more than 600 refugees had barricaded themselves in the mothballed detention centre, which closed on October 31.

With food and drinking water running out, group members claimed to be too scared to move to alternative accommodation in Manus Island’s provincial capital, Lorengua.

They feared they would be attacked by locals.

Basic services including water, electricity and medical services were cut off after the detention centre closure.

“As a church, as a Christian country, what now will we do for our brothers?” St Michael’s Church,  Lorengau priest Fr Alex Tanai said.

“What the authorities should do now is to allow the local residents to go in and find ways to help them.”

However, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the new facilities were of a “very high quality” and urged detainees to move.

The United Nations refugee agency has slammed Australia’s treatment of Manus Island asylum seekers and called for future processing to be moved to mainland Australia.

“We urge the Australian Government to transfer the men to mainland Australia where their claims can be properly processed,” UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch said in Geneva.

“We urge the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea to fully respect their human rights, including their specific rights under refugee law.”

The relocation of the asylum seekers to other facilities on Manus Island is designed to allow the United States time to complete vetting of refugees as part of a refugee swap deal that Australia hopes will see it no longer responsible for the detention of nearly 1400 asylum seekers who have been classified as refugees.

Those not accepted by the US would likely be resettled in PNG or in another developing country, dashing their hopes of coming to Australia.

Bishop Long described asylum seekers as among the most vulnerable members of the global community, and said the policy of offshore detention had cost Australia dearly.

“It is time to find an alternative and conscionable solution, including accepting New Zealand’s offer of resettlement and bringing the remaining detainees on Manus Island to Australia,” he said, referring to an offer by New Zealand to resettle 150 Manus Island asylum seekers.

“Those who are not refugees can be held here in secure detention until they are returned home. Those refugees accepted for entry to the US can migrate when their vetting processes are complete. The other refugees need to be able get on with their lives here in safety.”

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