Hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers have barricaded themselves inside a detention centre in Papua New Guinea, defying attempts by Australia and PNG authorities to close the facility.
Human rights advocates are warning of a looming humanitarian crisis in the stand-off between detainees of the Manus Island Centre and authorities as the October 31 deadline to close the Australian-funded camp arrived.
Many of those in the camp argue that its closure, ordered by a PNG court will deny them access to water, electricity and security, following violent reprisals from the local community.
Asylum seekers said many men had now run out of food, while others were surviving on supplies that they had stockpiled.
Lawyers for some of the 600 men have filed a last-minute lawsuit in PNG seeking an injunction to prevent the camp’s planned closure on Tuesday and the relocation of the men to a third country.
Protesters have rallied in Sydney asking the Australian government to take responsibility for the refugees and guarantee their safety and organise resettlement.
The Manus centre has been a key plank of Australia’s controversial “Sovereign Borders” immigration policy.
The country refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores, detaining them in camps in PNG and Nauru in the South Pacific.
PNG Immigration Minister Petrus Thomas warned late on Sunday that Australia will not be allowed to walk away from legal, financial and moral responsibility for the men.
Just under 200 men have already been moved.
The relocation of the men is designed as a temporary measure, allowing the United States time to complete vetting of refugees as part of a refugee swap deal.
Australia has said those detainees not resettled in the United States will be allowed to stay in PNG or Nauru. But nearly all have refused invitations to settle permanently in both locations.
The bulk of the detainees come from war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.