UNCHR assesses Manus conditions as worse than ever

On February 13, the UNHCR released its latest report on the status of detention on Manus Island. And the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Australian government has dumped people seeking asylum on the island, imprisoned them for 4 years and now abandoned them.

(Click on the underlined text here to read the transcript of the briefing in Geneva that accompanied the release of the recent assessment with the report itself in factsheet format here)

While the refugees and asylum seekers left on Manus are clearly Australia’s responsibility – the statement from the PNG Immigration Minister on the closure of Regional Processing Centre (RPC) emphasises this – the Australian Department of Home Affairs is paying contractors to supply the minimal services but seems to have otherwise washed their hands of the almost 800 men forced there by Australian government policy and expected to survive in restrictive and punishing conditions with no capacity to leave.

Beyond – and probably partially due to –  a considerable list of conditions that are of an even lower standard than those experienced in the now closed RPC, what most stood out for UNHCR Regional Protection Officer Rico Salcedo was the “worsening sense of helplessness and hopelessness among asylum-seekers and refugees“. The ongoing uncertainty about the future is a major factor in this, as are many similar circumstances and treatment to those at the RPC already deemed unacceptable. But UNHCR staff assessing conditions in the facilities to which men have been relocated recently found many new issues putting those held on the island at even greater risk than before. These include:

  • Overcrowding in all accommodation facilities
  • Toilet and shower facilities inadequate and water supply untreated for two of the facilities
  • Inadequate security – despite a continuing increase in community tensions and a number of incidents in December alone, perimeter fencing will not prevent unauthorised individuals from entering two of the sites
  • All services that were provided within the former RPC including health, pharmaceutical, counselling, case management and activities programmes have been terminated.  Medical care now is dealt with by a business-hours primary care clinic and a reconstituted but limited mental health service. There is no outreach treatment available and although there is a local hospital,  it has limited capacity, no anaesthetist, surgeon or psychiatrist and no ambulance. (There are about 50 people whose health conditions are so serious that they require transfer to Port Moresby or elsewhere but, as of 12 January, this had not been facilitated.)
  • No appropriate safe rooms for private consultation with medical or other service providers
  • No on-site interpreters – yet another obstacle to proper medical treatment or other support for those who do not speak fluent English
  • Minimal case worker support and the abrupt termination of torture and trauma counselling continues to expose many to even more severe psychiatric and psychological harm that they’ve already endured
  • and there are many more serious shortfalls in conditions, service provision/accessibility (all of which can be found in the report here).


The UNHCR reports that while services are predominantly implemented by Australian-contracted providers, the Government of Australia is no longer playing a coordination role on the ground on Manus Island …

“UNHCR staff have observed a consistent and ongoing lack of clarity as to designated roles, as well as confusion among refugees, asylum-seekers and service providers alike. It remains unclear how adequate performance by service providers is monitored or managed.”


  • assume a clear coordination role with regard to the service providers it has retained, and adequately monitor the fulfillment of agreed obligations.
  • prioritise the completion and implementation of a strategic operational plan identifying operational gaps and providing timelines and processes to address them
  • reinstate the multiple services – especially health-related – (ensuring accessibility) that were abruptly terminated and put in place a streamlined approach for medical evacuation to vital treatment that can only be provided elsewhere
  • expand the size of all accommodation facilities to meet the basic minimum standard of 6m2 per person and create recreational space for the two facilities which have none
  • construct a purpose-built facility for refugees and asylum-seekers for whom large group accommodation is unsuitable and therefore causes serious deterioration in chronic health conditions, ensure that all facilities have shower and toilet facilities with a minimum ratio of one for every 8 residents and test the untreated water supply at two facilities for water-borne diseases and other health risks


The Australian Government continues to ignore the UNHCR’s recommendations as it has the organisation’s  urgings and serious warnings through all the years since offshore processing began. 

But they cannot continue to ignore the constant emails and phone calls of citizens of Australia and the world demanding that they meet their obligations to international law and basic human rights

… PLEASE spread the word to ensure that the Australian government receives continual reminders of what must be done ASAP. 



The Australian Prime Minister
Malcolm Turnbull  email here      ph: 02 6277 7700

The current minister responsible for Immigration and Border Control
Peter Dutton  email here       ph: 02 6277 7860

The Federal Opposition Leader
Bill Shorten – email here      ph: 02 6277 4022

Your Australian Federal MP
whose contact details are at this link

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