UN says Australia endangering refugee health

7:32 pm on 29 November 2017

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination says Australia has endangered the health of refugees in its offshore detention centres on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and Nauru.

117th daily protest on Manus Island, West Lorengau, 27-11-17

117th daily protest on Manus Island, West Lorengau, 27-11-17 Photo: Behrouz Boochani

During consideration of Australia's periodic report on its compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in Geneva yesterday, committee experts described offshore detention as military led and punitive to discourage other arrivals by sea, through long mandatory detention.

Verene Shepherd

Verene Shepherd Photo: United Nations

They raised concern about the refugees' harsh living conditions and damage to the health of children in detention, as well as violence inflicted on detained women and inadequate medical attention.

The committee's Australian rapporteur, Verene Shepherd, urged Australia to amend the Maritime Powers Act of 2012 to remove powers to detain asylum seekers on the high seas and transfer them to any country, or a vessel of another country.

She also called for an end to the turnback policy.

Professor Shepherd asked for information on convictions and measures to reduce abuse in detention centres and raised concern for children of detainees placed in camps.

In reply, Australia's delegation said operation Sovereign Borders aimed to prevent unauthorised boat ventures to Australia and further loss of life at sea.

It said those intercepted would not be settled in Australia to send a clear message to people smugglers.

The delegation noted the Australian government was committed to international obligations not to send back people to countries where they faced immediate danger, and that Australia would resettle nearly 19,000 refugees under its humanitarian program in 2018/19.

Australia's Human Rights Law Centre said the committee 'grilled' and 'slammed' Australia over offshore detention and that a committee expert described conditions on Manus Island and Nauru as "desperate and dangerous."

Amy Frew

Amy Frew Photo: Human Rights Law Centre

The centre's Amy Frew said "the tide of international condemnation" was rising aginst Australia.

She said the situation on Manus Island was so dire that Doctors Without Borders was being prevented from treating sick and injured refugees.

"The cruelty of the Australian Government is such that doctors are being refused entry to the new detention centres," said Ms Frew.

"This is a humanitarian crisis of Malcolm Turnbull's own making. He can't close his eyes to this disaster any longer. Every man, woman and child must immediately be evacuated to safety in Australia," said Ms Frew.

Refugees say new centres inadequate

Refugees moved to three new facilities on Manus Island last week say they are overcrowded, incomplete and without running water.

On Wednesday, a refugee in Hillside Haus reported there had been no running water in showers and toilets for almost three days.

Kurdish journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani tweeted the accomodation capacity of East Lorengau Transit Centre had been exceeded by 120 men.

He said some refugees were still unable to find a bed and continued to sleep in a classroom.

West Lorengau centre under construction in front of Hillside Haus, 24-11-17

West Lorengau centre under construction in front of Hillside Haus, 24-11-17 Photo: supplied

Mr Boochani also tweeted that disgruntled locals had again blocked the road to one of the transit centres due to "problems" with security contractor Paladin Solutions.

He said the roadblock had prevented medical staff from attending to refugees.

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