The reported actions by police and immigration officials came as video shot by Australian advocacy group GetUp showed some 600 men living in squalid conditions in the detention facility on PNG’s Manus Island.
Australia declared the center closed on October 31, shutting off water and electricity supplies following a Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling that the camp was unconstitutional.
The detainees were taken to PNG under a tough Australian policy that sends asylum-seekers who try and reach the country by boat to Manus or a second camp on the Pacific island of Nauru.
The refugees have refused to leave the camp even as conditions have deteriorated, citing fears of a hostile reception from locals near three new transition centers set up for them.
“Everyone in the tropics knows how precious water is and how quickly dehydration can become a serious medical issue,” Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul said in a statement Friday of the authorities’ actions.
Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian refugee on Manus, tweeted Friday that shelters were torn down and rubbish bins used to collect rainwater had been destroyed.
“Police and immigration destroyed our shelters. Inside the rooms is very hot without power for fans. We built these shelters to provide shade & cover from tropical sun & rain,” he wrote.
He said workers on Thursday had also removed security fences around the center.
A photo he shared with AFP showed water being emptied from bins. Another refugee, Sudanese Abdul Aziz Adam, showed AFP an image of men removing a shelter.
Earlier Friday, footage released by GetUp showed men sleeping on tables outside cramped shipping containers to escape the heat, as well as blocked toilets and makeshift wells dug to store water.
“Death or serious illness is inevitable in coming days,” GetUp human rights co-director Shen Narayanasamy, who visited the camp, said in a statement.
“These men are sick, thirsty and hungry. The conditions are appalling and it’s obvious you wouldn’t choose to stay here if you thought you could be safer elsewhere.”
The GetUp report came after a notice put up at the camp Thursday warned “force may be used to relocate those who refuse to move voluntarily” by Saturday.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill added that “appropriate means” would be used to “apprehend individuals who are causing unnecessary anxiety and violence.”
Canberra has been under pressure from refugee advocates and the United Nations to close the camps on Manus and Nauru amid concerns about their conditions and the impact of prolonged detention on mental and physical health.
But the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva Thursday slammed the closure of Manus “without adequate arrangements for long-term viable relocation solutions for all refugees and asylum-seekers transferred there.”
The refugees are barred from resettling in Australia but Canberra has struggled to transfer them to third countries.
A deal struck with the United States to take up to 1,250 refugees has so far only seen 54 accepted, with 24 flown to America in September.