‘We will always suffer’: PNG refugees say exit from Australia leaves them stranded | Australian immigration and asylum

Australia’s decision to end offshore processing in Papua New Guinea leaves those held in its offshore regime for eight years in “limbo”, with refugees in Port Moresby saying “Nothing will change for us.”

“The Australian government can say it is ending treatment abroad,” refugee Ali told Guardian Australia, “but there is no end for us. It’s just another game they play with our lives. We will still suffer.

One hundred and twenty-four refugees and asylum seekers remain in PNG under Australia’s offshore processing regime.

Home Secretary Karen Andrews on Wednesday announced that Australia would end its involvement in offshore processing in PNG, five years after the detention center Australia ran on Manus Island had been ruled illegal and ordered shutdown by the PNG Supreme Court. Australia has paid out $ 70 million in compensation to those illegally detained there.

Refugees and asylum seekers currently detained in PNG – most in Port Moresby – have the option of being transferred to Australia’s other offshore processing island, Nauru, before the end of the year; stay in PNG permanently with alleged access to citizenship and family reunification; or stay temporarily in PNG pending resettlement in the United States under the United States-Australia Refugee Exchange Agreement.

Offshore processing remains Australian policy. Last month, the country signed a new agreement with the island state of Nauru to continue offshore processing indefinitely.

Ali – the Guardian chose not to publish his last name – applied for asylum in Australia in 2013 and was forcibly returned to custody on Manus Island the same year. His refugee status was officially recognized in 2015, which means Australia is legally obliged to protect him and he cannot be returned to his country of origin.

“People right now are very, very upset, sad and frustrated,” he said from Port Moresby. “After eight years of waiting in a limbo situation, we now hear that this will be another start of another limbo.

“We have the right to see our families, to be free, to live in a safe place. But there is no positive result for anyone here. “

Ali said New Zealand’s standing offer – resettling 150 refugees from the Australian offshore system each year – should be continued by PNG, without Australian interference: the Australian government has consistently rejected New Zealand’s offer .

“If PNG really wants to help people find a safe third country, why don’t they start negotiating with New Zealand? “, did he declare. “The third country is sitting there waiting to help, why not allow it?”

In a letter to refugees and asylum seekers on Wednesday, PNG’s migration manager Stanis Hulahau said PNG would take responsibility for supporting refugees and asylum seekers from January 1.

Single refugees and asylum seekers would receive a weekly “support allowance” of 300 Kina (A $ 116), as well as a weekly food allowance of 400 Kina. They would receive housing assistance, as well as transport to education and training institutions.

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“You may want to settle in PNG and PNG can offer citizenship access, long-term support, settlement packages and family reunification,” the letter said. “[The] The Immigration and Citizenship Authority (ICA) wants to understand what you need to settle in PNG and become an active member of the PNG community.

“The CIA wants to know what will help you feel safe and part of this nation. What do you need to support yourself and your family and build a life in PNG? “

Hulahau said a steering committee of prominent PNG leaders will meet with refugees and asylum seekers. “This will help us understand what you need to stay in PNG and if you choose to settle down, the supports for a successful integration into the community.”

Ali said he did not believe the pledges of support: “We were attacked in our accommodation recently, and the immigration service did nothing at all. The Australian people will continue to pay all this money but nothing will be done to help us. “

David Manne, executive director of Refugee Legal, said Australia cannot simply meet its responsibility for the people it has exiled abroad.

“Australia retains clear legal responsibility for the future fate of those it forcibly sent to PNG, detained there under arrangements it funded and controlled, and who remain trapped and suffer. He cannot simply absolve himself of his legal responsibility: he cannot transfer his obligations, legal or moral.

Manne said those still detained under Australia’s offshore PNG program should be relocated to an appropriate third country, such as the United States or New Zealand, or allowed to come to Australia.

Sophie McNeill, Australian researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Australia’s offshore treatment in PNG had caused “immeasurable suffering to thousands of vulnerable people seeking asylum.”

McNeill also urged the PNG government to accept New Zealand’s long-standing offer to relocate people from the Australian offshore system.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said it has always opposed policies where states seek to transfer their protection responsibilities to other countries – “usually developing countries where standards of protection are sought. refugee protection are poor “.

“In the case of Australia, we have also argued for its offshore agreements to be terminated and for more compassionate approaches to be found. Yesterday’s development will reach neither.

A joint statement from Andrews and PNG Immigration Minister Westly Nukundj said PNG would “take full management of regional processing services … and full responsibility for those who remain” from the 1st. January 2022.

“Australia and PNG are long-standing partners and regional leaders in the fight against maritime trafficking and look forward to continuing this close cooperation in the future post-finalization of the regional resettlement agreement,” said he declared.

The Australian government has provided emergency loans totaling more than half a billion dollars over the past two years to support PNG’s ailing budget. PNG is expected to request a similar amount again this year.

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About Christopher Easley

Christopher Easley

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