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Australia Asylum Seekers Standoff Continues


FILE - This photo made from Australia Broadcasting Corporation video taken Oct. 31, 2017, shows asylum seekers protesting the possible closure of their detention center on Manus Island, Paua New Guinea.

Conditions are steadily worsening at a former Australian refugee detention camp in Papua New Guinea where more than 600 asylum seekers remain holed up for a third consecutive day, a situation the United Nations calls an "unfolding humanitarian emergency."

Electricity and running water have been cut off at the Manus Island camp since Tuesday, when it was officially closed and control turned over to the PNG military. But the men have refused to leave and locked themselves in the camp, citing fears they may be subjected to violence by local residents if they are taken to alternative shelters in nearby communities.

But the U.N. refugee agency says the alternative shelters are still incomplete.

Lawyers for the 600-plus men have appealed to Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court for a temporary injunction to prevent the camp from being closed.

One of the detainees, an Iranian who identified himself as Behrouz Boochani, posted on Twitter that the refugees are digging deep holes in the ground to find water. Boochani also tweeted that some of the men are becoming physically ill, with food supplies steadily dwindling.

Australia scheduled the Manus camp for closure after Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled last year that the detention center was unconstitutional, as it violated the detainees right of personal liberty.

Under a strict immigration policy, Australia blocks asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia from reaching its shores by boat, sending them to Manus Island and another center on the Pacific island nation of Nauru. The policy has come under fire from the United Nations and human rights groups over the indefinite detention of the refugees, who have reportedly suffered abuse and emotional stress.

Australian film star Russell Crowe called the situation with the Manus detainees "a nation's shame" and "disgraceful" in a pair of tweets Wednesday, punctuating his anger with a profanity. Crowe said he could provide jobs and housing for at least six of the detainees, and was sure there would be "other Australians who would do the same."

The 600 men have been given the option of remaining on Papua New Guinea, returning to their homeland or being resettled in a third country. Many of them are barred from accepting citizenship in Australia, even if they are granted refugee status.

New Zealand's new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said Thursday her nation's offer to accept some of the detainees still remains. Ardern says she will raise the issue with her Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, when the two leaders meet later this week.

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