November 06, 2014 | ABC News
Papua New Guinea will start making final decisions on the refugee status of asylum seekers detained on Manus Island and prepare them for temporary resettlement in PNG.
PNG’s cabinet yesterday asked immigration minister Rimbink Pato to finalise refugee status determinations.
Those deemed refugees will be moved out of detention and given training and help in finding jobs in PNG.
“These people will not yet be permanently resettled,” Mr Pato said.
During a visit by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott last month, PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill announced that a draft resettlement policy was being scrapped and ordered fresh consultations about refugee settlement.
“While this policy is being redeveloped, genuine refugees will be given visas and moved from the Manus Regional Processing Centre to a new purpose-built facility in East Lorengau,” Mr Pato said.
Refugees will be given training in English, the national language of Tok Pisin and PNG culture.
PNG is truly leading the Pacific in providing humanitarian protection to these vulnerable people who have fled persecution.PNG immigration minister Rimbink Pato
The new Australian-funded facility will be run by PNG’s Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority and will be staffed by Papua New Guineans.
Since violent riots in February left one asylum seeker dead and dozens injured, some asylum seekers have expressed fear about reprisal attacks.
But PNG’s immigration minister said there were accountants, architects, engineers, teachers and other skilled people being detained on Manus Island who could benefit Papua New Guinea’s economy.
“If provinces outside of Manus tell us that they need skilled workers to help boost their local economies, then we will support refugees to fill those jobs while awaiting the [resettlement] policy,” Mr Pato said.
It is not clear what visas the refugees will be given, as PNG does not currently have a refugee visa.
No time frame was given for the refugee decisions or resettlement process.
Non-genuine asylum seekers required to leave
Mr Pato said any asylum seekers found not to be refugees would be required to leave PNG, either voluntarily or by deportation.
“PNG is truly leading the Pacific in providing humanitarian protection to these vulnerable people who have fled persecution,” he said.
Australia’s Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, welcomed the announcement.
“We welcome the Papua New Guinea government’s decision to activate the next stage of the resettlement process that will enable people found to be refugees to leave the processing centre on Manus Island and live in the community in the purpose built East Lorengau facility,” Mr Morrison said.
“The decision demonstrates the positive partnership that exists between Australian and PNG on implementing the resettlement arrangement and the progress that is being made.
“The details of visa and resettlement arrangements are being managed by the government of Papua New Guinea.
The latest available statistics from the Australian Government are from the end of October and show 1,056 people being detained at Manus Island.
At that time, 104 Refugee Status Interim Determination assessments had been completed with 56 found to be positive and 48 negative.
These recommendations need final approval from the PNG immigration minister.
Some asylum seekers and their advocates have expressed fear about reprisal attacks after the riots in February.
“Amnesty International would ordinarily welcome the release of refugees from long-term, indefinite detention in harsh humiliating conditions,” Amnesty Refugee Campaign coordinator Graeme McGregor said.
“However, Amnesty International is extremely concerned about the safety of refugees released on Manus Island under the temporary resettlement arrangement.”
Manus governor ‘unaware’ of decision
Manus Island governor Charlie Benjamin said he was unaware of the PNG cabinet decision.
“It’s news to me,” Governor Benjamin said.
He welcomed the prospect of refugees being released from detention but said they would not find a home on Manus Island.
“No, they wont be resettled here permanently … they’re here to be moved on to another province or another country,” he said.
The long-term plan for refugees in Papua New Guinea remains unclear.
The United Nation’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) – which has been running the voluntary return of asylum seekers from Manus Island to their home countries – said it was in discussions with the PNG government about building capacity for resettlement.
But an IOM representative said the organisation would not be directly involved in the resettlement process in PNG.
Immigration officials in Papua New Guinea did not respond to requests for more detail about the temporary job placement program.
The detention of asylum seekers on the remote island in northern PNG and the resettling of refugees in PNG, is a major part of Australia’s offshore processing policy, designed to discourage dangerous boat journeys to Australia.
In the same statement, PNG’s immigration minister said his government would help West Papuan refugees apply for Papua New Guinea citizenship.
Tens of thousand of West Papuans have fled the Indonesian-controlled provinces bordering PNG. Many have lived in makeshift refugee camps for decades.
Mr Pato said most West Papua refugees already met the requirements for PNG citizenship and the government would waive the application fees.
He said the process would happen over the next 12 months and would be assisted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.