The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR slammed on Friday the use of force by Papua New Guinean police to remove refugees and asylum seekers from a shuttered Australian-run detention complex center on Manus Island and called for them to be protected.
On the second day of Operation Helpim Friend, Papua New Guinean mobile squad officers raided the detention center using metal batons against refugees and asylum seekers and forcing them on to buses, ending a three-week protest which started with some 600 people surviving on rainwater and smuggled food and supplies.
Mobile phone footage shot in the center on Friday morning showed PNG officers threatening and hitting refugees as they dragged men out of the center.
"The beating of refugees and asylum-seekers by uniformed officers with metal poles, shown by footage released today, is both shocking and inexcusable," UNHCR said in a statement.
Several refugees were "severely injured" in the raid and needed medical treatment, it added, warning of a "grave risk" of further deterioration of the situation on the island.
Australia closed the Manus Island detention center on Oct. 31, after it was declared illegal by a Papua New Guinea court, but the asylum seekers refused to leave to transit centers saying they feared for their safety.
Despite the unsanitary conditions and lack of adequate food and fresh water, about 300 remained when Papua New Guinea police started removing people on Thursday and Friday.
Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in a statement on Friday that all of the asylum seekers had now departed for alternative accommodation.
“Advocates should now desist from holding out false hope to these men that they will ever be brought to Australia,” Dutton said.
The fate of the asylum seekers, some of whom have been detained for years and come mostly from Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Syria, remains unclear.
Australia steadfastly refuses to allow them entry under its strict “sovereign borders” policy and the asylum seekers have refused to resettle in Papua New Guinea.
Australia and Papua New Guinea both say the asylum seekers are now the other’s responsibility, although the Australian government said it had spent A$10 million ($7.6 million) on the transit facility and it wanted the men to move there.
Under Australia’s “sovereign borders” policy asylum seekers trying to reach its shores by boat are intercepted and detained in either Papua New Guinea or Nauru in the South Pacific.
The United Nations and human rights groups have for years criticized Australia’s policy, citing human rights abuses in the offshore detention centers and called for their closure.