Manus Island: Australia's treatment of refugees 'disgraceful'

A lawyer representing refugees stranded on Manus Island wants Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to bypass the "disgraceful" Australia and cut a deal with Papua New Guinea to let them into New Zealand.

Around 600 men are refusing to leave the processing centre despite power, water, food and medical supplies being cut off a week ago.

Most have already been vetted and confirmed as genuine refugees by the US. The men were supposed to move into temporary housing in nearby Lorengau, but fear attacks from locals opposed to their presence on the island, located north of the Papua New Guinea mainland.

The men have barricaded themselves inside the centre, digging for water and suffering without medication and food.

New Zealand has offered to take 150 of them immediately to ease the crisis, within our existing refugee quota, but Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declined "at this time", instead pushing ahead with ongoing negotiations with the US.

"I can understand why the Australians are prioritising that agreement, because that would substantially resolve the issue," Ms Ardern told The AM Show on Friday.

"I wasn't entirely surprised, I do however remain hopeful Australia does act with some expediency - that would mean taking up New Zealand's offer."

Australian human rights lawyer Greg Barns, who has fought for the processing centre to remain open, says Ms Ardern should forget about talking to Australia, which has "abdicated its responsibility", and get on the phone to Papua New Guinea.

"There's a chance to be a global leader because this is a global crisis," he told The AM Show. "This is being talked about right around the world."

He said Ms Ardern should look to her mentor Helen Clark, who in 2001 allowed 150 Afghan refugees rescued from a sinking fishing boat in the Indian Ocean by Norwegian freighter the Tampa, to resettle in New Zealand. Ms Clark later called it the proudest moment of her Prime Ministership.

"Helen Clark did the right thing with Tampa. It needs to be done again."

HMAS Manoora passes by the Tampa off Christmas Island in 2001.
HMAS Manoora passes by the Tampa off Christmas Island in 2001. Photo credit: Getty

To not do so would be to let them die, Mr Barns said.

"Australia has run an extraordinarily inhumane policy on asylum seekers for many, many years, and it has ended on Manus in this appalling situation we have today."

Australia tried to settle some of the men in Cambodia, but only seven took up the offer, Sky News reports. Mr Barns said Cambodia is an impoverished country just like Papua New Guinea, and not a long-term solution to Australia's migration problems.

"It's time for rich countries to step up and do something. We're talking here about a very small number of people."

 Ms Ardern said even if Australia accepted New Zealand's offer, it wouldn't necessarily result in refugees getting off the island and to safety any quicker.

"You've got to process them. American and Australia already have a process in place - if you were to circumvent that, I don't think it would necessarily make a resettlement quicker. And Australia doesn't want the offer off the table yet."

Australia already takes in around 14000 refugees a year. New Zealand's quota is 1000, but is expected to rise under the new Government.