27 Nov 2013

Asylum seekers in PNG and Nauru "profoundly impacted" says UNHCR

8:25 am on 27 November 2013

The United Nations refugee agency has released damning reports on Australia's asylum seeker centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

After visits to the centres, the UNHCR reports the asylum seekers are living in arbitrary detention in conditions that do not meet international standards of treatment.

The UNHCR's Regional Representative Richard Towle says men, women and children are profoundly impacted by the current policies, operational approaches and harsh physical conditions at both centres.

The reports acknowledged some improvements since the agency last visited earlier in the year but the agency says the psycho-social well-being of vulnerable people - including survivors of torture and trauma and unaccompanied children - is likely to be an issue of growing concern.

It called fo a stop to the transfer of children unless there has been a marked improvement in conditions in both centres.

Mr Towle says the centres constitute mandatory detention that is not compatible with international law.

He also says there is no fair and efficient system for assessing refugee claims, nor adequate and timely solutions provided for recognized refugees.

In Nauru the UNHCR observed significant setbacks in refugee processing and a deterioration in reception conditions since the 19 July riot.

Mr Towle says the UNHCR is deeply concerned that, despite a processing system being in place under Nauru law, only one decision has been handed down in the 14 months since the centre reopened and no decisions at all have been finalized at the centre in PNG.

The agency has made a number of recommendations and says it is ready to discuss these with the governments concerned.