The United Nations has called on Australia to take responsibility for around 800 refugees and asylum seekers stranded in a detention centre on Papua New Guinea where it said many lack medical and mental health care.
The refugees, many from Afghanistan and Pakistan, along with Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, were removed from a holding camp in the remote PNG island of Manus in November when Australia decided to close it.
Australia's government, whose policy of holding asylum seekers in offshore camps has bipartisan political support, has said the centre that the group was moved to on the island was adequate and the PNG government was responsible for running it.
But Rico Salcedo, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' regional protection officer, told journalists on Tuesday the Canberra government had a duty under international law to take responsibility for the 800 who had been seeking sanctuary in Australia.
"What stood out the most from this mission ... was a pervasive and worsening sense of despair among refugees and asylum seekers," he said by video link from Canberra after returning from a trip to Manus Island.
"Australia remains ultimately responsible as the state from whom refugees and asylum seekers have sought international protection for their welfare and long-term settlement outside of Papua New Guinea," he added.
Salcedo said that while services were still predominantly implemented by Australian-contracted providers, the Canberra government was no longer co-ordinating the operation there, leaving refugees and asylum seekers confused as to how they can obtain services.
At least 500 of the 800 remaining on PNG await solutions or resettlement in third countries, the UNHCR says.
Under the Obama administration, the US agreed to take up to 1250 refugees, but transfers have been slow under Trump.
© RAW 2018