The United Nation's refugee agency, the UNHCR, have released a scathing report on Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea.

The report expresses serious concerns with the conditions and processes currently in place, and has released a series of recommendations to the Australian and PNG government.

Below is a summary of their main criticisms:

Processing hasn't begun

The processing of asylum claims in the Manus Island detention centre has not begun. The UNHCR was given no indication when processing would begin.

Asylum-seekers are distressed and confused about their situation. They are in closed detention, without a process in sight. They feel they have been forgotten.

Richard Towle, UNHCR

PNG lacks adequate legal framework

At current, Papua New Guinea lacks an adequate national legal framework to begin processing claims for asylum, and fulfil its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention. The UNHCR also has concerns about the lack of capacity, experience and expertise to do so.

Conditions in the camp are harsh

Accommodation for asylum seekers leaves a lot to be desired. UNHCR's Regional Representative Richard Towle describes the conditions as "harsh, hot humid, damp and cramped".

UNHCR called on Australian and PNG authorities to improve conditions, and ensure an early start to the refugee assessments process in order to prevent increased levels of psycho-social and physical harm amongst asylum-seekers in the detention centre.

The current policy and practice of detaining children should be terminated as a matter of priority.

Richard Towle, UNHCR

Manus Island is no place to send children

The UNHCR's biggest concern was for the well-being of the 34 children on Manus Island. They recommended that the refugee claims of children be prioritised, and that they be moved into child-friendly accommodation once preliminary health checks have been completed.

They also recommend that Australia cease transferring children to Manus Island until all appropriate legal and administrative safeguards for their processing and treatment are in place, including their placement in an open centre as opposed to the current environment of detention.

Effects on asylum seekers

Asylum seekers expressed varying degrees of confusion and frustration over processing arrangements. They said information provided on their arrival was limited and confusing, and no printed material is available for asylum seekers in their native language.

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Manus Island could violate international law

UNHCR's report found that the current policy and practice of detaining all asylum-seekers on a mandatory and indefinite basis, without an individual assessment or possibility for review, amounts to arbitrary detention which is inconsistent with the obligations of both Australia and PNG under international human rights law.

Key recommendations

  • Australian and PNG authorities to improve the reception conditions on Manus Island.

  • Australian and PNG authorities must ensure an early start to the refugee assessments process in order to prevent increased levels of psycho-social and physical harm amongst asylum-seekers in the detention centre.

  • More information and clarity must be provided for asylum seekers about their situation counseling on the procedures and time frames of various steps in line with international standards.

  • Pre-transfer assessments in Australia must be reviewed to ensure that these fully take into account vulnerabilities of individuals who may have suffered torture or trauma.

Read and download the full report