Police in Papua New Guinea have entered a decommissioned prison camp on Manus Island, trying to evict refugees who are refusing to leave.
About 50 of the camp’s inhabitants left in buses, but about 330 others said they were too afraid to go outside the former Australian-run facility, fearing attacks by locals.
Police and immigration officials entered the camp on Thursday morning to persuade the men to leave for alternative accommodation in the nearby town of Lorengau.
Refugees holed up in the camp reported that their shelters, beds and other belongings were destroyed by policemen.
Australia pays Papua New Guinea and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru to hold thousands of asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have attempted to reach Australian shores by boat since mid-2013.
Water, power and food supplies ended when the camp on Manus Island officially closed on October 31, based on the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court’s ruling last year that Australia’s policy of housing asylum seekers there was unconstitutional.
Authorities have previously made conditions tougher in the camp by emptying drinking water tanks and removing shelters.
Since then, the refugees have been living in increasingly filthy conditions, without clean water or supplies.
Shen Narayanasamy, human rights director of Getup!, an Australian campaign group, visited the camp and told Al Jazeera that living conditions there were appalling.
“I have a background in post-conflict zones. Conditions we witnessed were worse than I have seen; overcrowded; sleeping in shipping containers; no water; men had not had food,” Narayanasamy said.
“These men have been detained for over four years, vast majority being legally refugees. The legal situation is that it’s clearly Australia’s responsibility. Papua New Guinea shares some but it was Australia that forced these people to go there,” she added.
“The legal situation also makes it clear that this is a human rights crisis. Four years ago, Amnesty International called it a catastrophe. This is a crisis perpetuated by the Australian government.”