The United Nations has warned of an escalating crisis on Manus Island after an asylum seeker died in a suspected suicide.
The High Commissioner for Refugees is “gravely concerned” by the situation at the offshore processing centre as authorities move detainees ahead of its closure in October.
Water and electricity has begun to be cut off.
“The UNHCR is deeply saddened by the tragic death of a young refugee yesterday, which also highlights the precarious situation for vulnerable people on Manus Island,” the agency said on Tuesday.
A 31-year-old Iranian asylum seeker with a history of mental illness was found dead near the Lorengau Transit Centre on Monday before he was due to move into the Papua New Guinean community.
Greens senator Nick McKim on Tuesday read out the names of those who have died in offshore centres since 2013 and paused for a minute’s silence in Parliament.
Liberal senator Michaelia Cash labelled his move “way worse than disgusting” and accused Senator McKim of politicising the death.
Natasha Blucher of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) said it was appropriate to pay respect to a man who died in Australia’s care.
“My understanding is there has been a minute’s silence in the halls of Parliament many times for various different reasons. My view would be it is entirely appropriate [to hold a minute’s silence],” Ms Blucher told The New Daily.
“To presume that by showing respect to him is somehow politicising his death, I think it’s actually the reverse — that [Ms Cash’s comment is] a politicisation of his death.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday said he regretted the tragedy, but insisted his government would not abandon its offshore immigration detention regime.
“We all regret the death the honourable member referred to (of) the person detained in PNG,” Mr Turnbull told MPs.
“We are not going to outsource our borders to people smugglers ever again.”
Ms Blucher said it was concerning Mr Turnbull would not reconsider mandatory offshore detention. She blamed “unconscionable” conditions for the asylum seeker’s “foreseeable” death.
Tensions are high on Manus Island and there has been a recent spate of violent attacks by locals on refugees, it is claimed.
Refugees on Manus Island have held daily peaceful protests recently as services at the centre shut down. The protest was called off and replaced with a vigil on Monday out of respect.
Ms Blucher said the nearly 800 refugees on Manus Island were “increasingly terrified”.
“The camp in Manus Island is in a very heightened state, and there is a lot of tension between those in Lorengau town, the security personnel, the police and the refugees inside the centre. It’s very volatile.
“If you put people in a situation where they have no hope, they have no future, they can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel … of course their mental health is going to continue to go downhill.”
On Monday, refugee Amir Taghinia told The New Daily “no one is doing okay here”.
The UN said it believes the looming closure of the processing centre is exacerbating a highly stressful situation for those on the island.
The UN insists critical services on Manus Island must continue, warning any further reduction of fundamental supports for refugees and asylum-seekers would add to the serious health and security risks of detainees.
The Iranian asylum seeker’s death is being investigated by PNG authorities and a coroner will prepare a report.
The Greens, advocates and refugees have called for the man’s body to be brought to Australia for an independent autopsy.
Senator McKim labelled Manus Island and Nauru centres unsafe and demanded the immediate evacuation of all refugees.
“The only safe place for these people is to be evacuated from Manus Island and Nauru and brought here to Australia,” he told senators.
Distressed readers can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14. Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467. MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78.