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UN scolds Australia for its treatment of sick refugees

Australia has copped a pasting from the United Nations for its treatment of asylum seekers who remain stuck in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The UN high commissioner for refugees has joined human rights groups and grassroots advocates in demanding the immediate evacuation of about 150 people being held offshore.

Greens senator Nick McKim has introduced proposed laws that would see 66 people on Nauru and another 92 in PNG transferred to community detention in Australia if they posed no security risk.

People evacuated to Australia would be provided with access to medical treatment.

A parliamentary inquiry investigating the bill has received more than 30 submissions, with unanimous support for the legislative amendment.

The UNHCR and Human Rights Watch were among those to support a more humane and cost-effective approach to achieving "immigration enforcement goals".

The UN lambasted the government, saying it had a legal responsibility towards the safe settlement of asylum seekers under international rules.

"The government of Australia cannot seek to divest itself of responsibility or limit jurisdiction and responsibility under international law for those taken to Nauru or Papua New Guinea," the agency said.

Its submission described observing first-hand how the physical and psychological health of asylum seekers and refugees transferred offshore by Australia had deteriorated over the last decade.

Human Rights Watch said 12 asylum seekers had died since 2013, when the offshore processing policy was introduced.

The organisation also pointed out Australian taxpayers had been left to pay the exorbitant bill.

It estimated community detention would cost $55,000 per asylum seeker, compared to $6.4 million per person in offshore detention.

In January, the government contracted MTC Australia to run garrison and welfare services for asylum seekers in Nauru at a cost of $422 million.

Senator McKim said his bill would not require the government to permanently settle people in Australia, but offered a compassionate and practical solution until a deal had been clinched with a third country.

"It was the ALP which sent every one of these people to Manus Island and Nauru in 2013, which means that Labor has a moral responsibility to end their exile," he said.

"Offshore detention has been a humanitarian calamity and one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters in our country's story. It is time we wrote the ending, and this bill will help us to do that."

Australia maintains a policy of never allowing asylum seekers to resettle in the nation if they arrive by boat.

For eight months in 2019, refugees and asylum seekers were brought to Australia under the hotly contested medevac law, which allowed doctors in offshore facilities to approve the transfer of sick detainees.

The law was passed against the coalition's will and repealed once the former government secured enough Senate support.