May 10, 2014
Papua New Guinea’s immigration minister says he will choose which refugees resettle in the country, an apparent contradiction of the Australian Government’s assertion that all genuine refugees detained on Manus Island will be resettled within PNG.
An unknown number of asylum seekers have received positive initial assessments, the first step towards refugee status.
But PNG immigration minister Rimbink Pato says he will take advice from an expert panel and may choose refugees based on their professional skills.
“The national government will determine who will or will not be settled in Papua New Guinea as refugees,” he said.
This contradicts Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s comments on Friday, when he said “everyone who’s found to be a refugee at Manus Island, they will be resettled in Papua New Guinea”.
Responding to a question on what Mr Morrison said, Mr Pato said the final say would be made by the PNG cabinet.
“I have said there’s an expert panel which is going to formulate the policy framework within which we will act and depending on what the recommendations are – if they for example impose a quota, if they for example require a particular type of skilled persons for resettlement – those are matters for the cabinet,” he said.
“Whilst Mr Morrison and I could be going in one direction, we will report back to our respective cabinets and then the cabinet will make their final say and then obviously, I will be following the decision of the cabinet.”
PNG processing 10 claims a week: Pato
Mr Pato says he expects refugees to begin resettling in PNG in July.
He has not said how many asylum seekers have received positive refugee status assessments so far, but says PNG immigration officials are processing about 10 asylum claims each week.
“Those who have been determined as negative and/or positive are entitled to seek a review of those determinations through a review panel and that process of review is presently underway,” he said.
If a negative assessment is upheld by the review panel, the asylum seeker will be repatriated to his home country at Australia’s expense, Mr Pato says.
The PNG government has not revealed where it will resettle refugees within the country, but Mr Pato says PNG expects Australia to foot the bill for resettlement costs for as long as the Manus Island processing arrangements are in place.
Meanwhile, Mr Pato says police may have delayed their investigations into the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati in order to coordinate with the Australian and PNG government reviews.
There are at least four separate investigations into the Manus Island detention centre.
The Australian administrative review led by Robert Cornall has handed over its findings to the PNG government, which is conducting its own review.
But Mr Pato says the police investigation on Manus Island may have been deliberately slowed to avoid contradicting the immigration reviews.
“They may have delayed their investigations possibly to some extent to avoid the outcome of the two inquiries,” he said.
The ABC understands police on Manus Island were still seeking interviews on Wednesday from asylum seekers who witnessed Barati’s death, 12 weeks after the incident.