Sunday, December 5

“We will continue to suffer”: refugees in PNG say Australia’s departure leaves them stranded | Australian immigration and asylum

Australia’s decision to end overseas processing in Papua New Guinea leaves detainees within its overseas regime for eight years in “limbo”, and refugees in Port Moresby say: “Nothing will change for us” .

“The Australian government can say that it is ending overseas processing,” one refugee, Ali, told Guardian Australia, “but there is no end for us. This is just another game that they play with our lives. We will still suffer. “

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

On Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews announced that Australia would end its involvement in overseas prosecution in PNG, five years after the Australian-run detention facility on Manus Island was determined to be illegal and the PNG Supreme Court ordered its closure. Australia paid $ 70 million in compensation to those illegally detained there.

Refugees and asylum seekers now in PNG, mostly in Port Moresby, have the option of moving to Australia’s other overseas processing island, Nauru, before the end of the year; stay in PNG permanently with supposed access to citizenship and family reunification; or temporarily remain in PNG while awaiting resettlement to the US under the US-Australia refugee exchange agreement.

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

Ali, the guardian has decided not to publish his last name, applied for asylum in Australia in 2013 and was forcibly transferred to Manus Island detention that same year. His refugee status was formally recognized in 2015, which means that Australia is legally obliged to protect him and he cannot be returned to his home country.

“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 are now hearing that it will be another beginning 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 outcome for anyone here. “

Ali said New Zealand’s permanent offer, to resettle 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore system each year, should be pursued by PNG, free from Australian interference: the Australian government has consistently rejected NZ’s offer.

“If PNG really wants to help people find a third country where they will be safe, why not start negotiating with New Zealand?” He said. “The third country is waiting to help, why not allow them?”

In a letter to refugees and asylum seekers on Wednesday, PNG Migration Director Stanis Hulahau said that PNG will take responsibility for supporting refugees and asylum seekers starting 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 assistance with accommodation, as well as transportation to education and training facilities.

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

“ICA wants to know what will help you feel safe and be a 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 would meet with refugees and asylum seekers. “This will help us understand what you need to stay in PNG and, if you choose to settle, the supports for successful integration into the community.”

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

David Manne, Chief Executive Officer of Refugee Legal, said Australia could not simply shake off the responsibility of the people it exiled abroad.

“Australia retains a clear legal responsibility for the future fate of those it forcibly sent to PNG, held there under agreements it financed and controlled, and who remain trapped and suffering. It cannot simply be exempted from legal responsibility: it cannot transfer its obligations, legal or moral ”.

Manne said that those still held within Australia’s offshore scheme in Papua New Guinea should be resettled in an appropriate third country, such as the United States or New Zealand, or allowed to come to Australia, “not facing the future of being diverted to another indefinite episode of human storage on Nauru, or being completely adrift. “

He said the PNG administration was not sufficiently equipped to offer resettlement and protection to refugees.

Sophie McNeill, an Australian researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Australia’s overseas prosecution in PNG has caused “immeasurable suffering to thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers.”

“Australians will never forget the seven asylum seekers who died in detention by Australian immigrants on Manus Island as a result of suicide, violence or medical negligence,” he said.

McNeill urged PNG to accept New Zealand’s long-standing offer to resettle people from Australia’s offshore system.

TO joint declaration de Andrews and PNG Immigration Minister Westly Nukundj said PNG “will assume full management of regional processing services … and full responsibility for those that remain” as of January 1, 2022.

“Australia and Papua New Guinea have long been regional partners and leaders in the fight against human trafficking by sea and they look forward to continuing this close cooperation in the future after the completion of the regional resettlement agreement,” he said.

The Australian government has provided emergency loans totaling more than $ 500 million in the past two years to support PNG’s ailing budget. PNG is expected to seek a similar amount again this year.

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