THE UN refugee agency has slammed the federal government's immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea and has called for the transfer of children to be suspended.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it has found significant shortcomings in how asylum seekers are transferred, treated and processed on PNG's Manus Island.
The UNCHR's damning assessment comes after its officials made a three-day visit to Manus a fortnight ago.
Its report finds that the government's current regime is inconsistent with Australia's international obligations.
The mandatory detention of 34 children and their families at the centre is particularly troubling, UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle said in a statement accompanying the report.
The report calls on the government to cease transferring children until all appropriate legal and administrative safeguards for their processing and treatment are in place.
That should include arrangements to house them in an "open centre" as opposed to the current detention centre, it says.
The UNHCR says it is also deeply concerned about the lack of a legal framework under which refugee claims can be assessed in PNG and the capacity and expertise of officials to process such claims.
"Asylum seekers are distressed and confused about their situation. They are in closed detention, without a process in sight. They feel they have been forgotten," Mr Towle said.
Transfers to Manus Island began in November. There were more than 200 asylum seekers there when the UNHCR visited.