UN 'very confident' Manus and Nauru refugee transfers to US imminent

Refugees on Manus Island and Nauru are very likely to begin resettlement in the US within weeks, the United Nations says, despite serious concerns over Australia's withdrawal from Papua New Guinea.

On Tuesday, which marked six weeks until the Manus Island detention facility is due to close, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told Fairfax Media action on the US deal was imminent.

"I'm very confident that the US will take very significant numbers of refugees from both locations, which we very sincerely appreciate," said Thomas Albrecht, the Canberra-based regional representative of the UNHCR, which has assisted in the process.

"I'm very confident that the first departures will occur in the near future."

Transfers were originally expected to begin in July, but the US reached its refugee quota for the year. The quota resets on October 1.

Senior sources said the US could take more than the 1250 refugees it originally flagged, but public speculation about numbers and dates was unhelpful. Labor MPs indicated they had been briefed to a similar effect.

Mr Albrecht said refugees were at "various stages" of the approval process and movement to the US would be staggered. "It's not going to be one big departure arrangement," he said.

But Mr Albrecht was critical of the coerced removal of refugees from the regional processing centre on the Lombrum naval base to a "transit centre" near Lorengau, further west on the island.

On Monday night, another 15 refugees were handed notices giving them hours to collect their belongings and assemble with administrators by 9am on Tuesday for transfer to Lorengau.

The paperwork, written in Arabic and translated by Fairfax Media, matched a notice given to other refugees last week in English informing them they "must" move at the stated time.

However, Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani said most of the men refused to go. "We're used to this kind of letter and this kind of pressure," he told Fairfax Media.

Refugees have been unwilling to leave the RPC voluntarily, largely because of fears for their safety in Lorengau.

Mr Albrecht said the October 31 deadline was "very unhelpful" and the medical and mental health services available in Lorengau were inadequate, especially for a sustained period of time.

"It would be in many ways very worrisome that Australia would consider abandoning people there," he said.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton declined an interview, but last week in Parliament reiterated the Turnbull government's intention to adhere to the October 31 closure date.

He confirmed a meeting with PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill on September 1, and said they had discussed sending 200 asylum seekers without refugee status to "an alternative place of detention".

Asked if that meant a PNG domestic jail, a Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokesman said he had nothing to add to the minister's comments and it was a matter for PNG.

Mr Dutton also said the Lorengau centre had capacity for about 400 refugees "and we will work with the PNG government in helping them provide services to those people".

The Guardian reported on Tuesday that among those offered financial assistance to go home were Rohingyan asylum seekers from Myanmar, where the ethnic minority faces persecution.

The story quoted a 32-year-old Rohingya man who intended to return to Myanmar with $25,000 he said he had been promised by Australian officials.

Australian financial incentives to return home ended on August 31, although people who applied by that date are still eligible to receive assistance. Refugees who agree to return voluntarily are not considered to have been refouled.

This story UN 'very confident' Manus and Nauru refugee transfers to US imminent first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.