‘We will still suffer’: PNG refugees say Australia’s exit leaves them stranded | Immigration and asylum in Australia

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

“The Australian government may say they are ending the offshore processing,” a refugee Ali told Guardian Australia, “but there is no end for us. It is another game they have played with us. life. We will still suffer. “

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

On Wednesday, the minister of domestic affairs, Karen Andrews, announced that Australia would end its involvement in offshore processing in PNG, five years after the detention center that Australia ran on Manus Island was proven illegal and ordered by the PNG supreme court. Australia has paid $ 70m in compensation to offenders detained there.

Refugees and asylum seekers now held in PNG – mostly in Port Moresby – have the option to move to another processing island off Australia’s offshore, Nauru, before the end of the year; to remain in PNG permanently with expected access to citizenship and family reunification; or to remain temporarily in PNG while awaiting relocation to the US under the US-Australia refugee exchange agreement.

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

Ali – the Guardian will choose not to publish his last name – claimed asylum in Australia in 2013 and was forcibly removed from Manus Island detention the same year. He formally recognized refugee status in 2015, meaning Australia has a legal obligation to protect him and he cannot be returned to his home country.

“People right now are very, very upset and sad and frustrated,” he said from Port Moresby. “After eight years of waiting in the limbo situation, we hear that this is going to 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 standing offer – to relocate 150 refugees from Australia’s offshore system each year – should be pursued by PNG, free from Australian interference: the Australian government continues to reject NZ offer.

“If PNG really wants to help people find a third country where they can be safe, why don’t they start negotiating with New Zealand ?,” he said. “The third country is sitting there waiting to help, why don’t you allow them?”

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

Single refugees and asylum seekers will receive a weekly “support allowance” of 300 kina (A $ 116), as well as a 400 kina weekly food allowance. They will receive housing assistance, as well as transportation to education and training facilities.

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

“The ICA wants to know what will help you feel safe and be a part of this country. 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 identify refugees and asylum seekers. “This will help us understand what it takes to stay in PNG and if you choose to live, the supports for successful community integration.”

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

David Manne, executive director of Refugee Legal, said Australia could not absolve itself of responsibility for people deported offshore.

“Australia remains clear legally responsible for the future fate of people forcibly deported to PNG, held there under bankrolled and controlled arrangements, and remain confined and suffering. It is not just- as long as it forgives itself of legal responsibility: it cannot transfer its obligations, legal or moral. ”

Manne said those still held within Australia’s offshore scheme in PNG should be resettled in an appropriate third country, such as the US or New Zealand, or allowed to go to Australia.

Sophie McNeill, Australian researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Australia’s offshore processing 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 Australia’s offshore system.

The office of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees said they have always opposed policies under which states seek to shift their protection responsibilities to other countries – “typically developing countries where standards for the protection of refugees are poor “.

“In the case of Australia, we have also advocated that offshore repairs will be completed and more compassionate strategies to be found. Yesterday’s progress will be achievable either.”

A joint statement from Andrews and PNG’s immigration minister, Westly Nukundj, said PNG would “take full management of the region’s processing services … and full responsibility for those who stay” from January 1, 2022.

“Australia and PNG have long been partners and leaders of the region in the fight against people smuggling at sea and look forward to the continuation of this close cooperation in the future after the completion of the regional settlement,” he said.

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

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