Australia is officially ending its controversial (read: cruel) offshore detention of refugees in Papa New Guinea (PNG). But, before you get excited, this isn’t really good news — the refugees that are currently there will be left without resettlement to Australia.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said that the Australian government will stop regional processing contracts with PNG at the end of the year. After that, the statement authorises PNG to be responsible for the “people who have attempted to travel to Australia illegally by boat.”
According to the statement, “Australia will support anyone subject to regional processing arrangements in PNG who wishes to voluntarily transfer to Nauru.”
“PNG will provide a permanent migration pathway for those wishing to remain in PNG – including access to citizenship, long-term support, settlement packages and family reunification. PNG will also provide support to people temporarily in PNG awaiting movement to a third country,” the statement reads.
“Australia’s strong border protection policies – including regional processing – have not changed. Anyone who attempts to enter Australia illegally by boat will be returned, or sent to Nauru.”
FYI: it is literally a human right of asylum seekers to come to Australia under international law. The “illegal” asylum seeker is a myth. What is illegal though, is our government’s treatment of asylum seekers. But, facts never stopped our government before, so here we are.
Now, the Australian government ending offshore processing in PNG isn’t the progress you’d hope it is. The refugees that were kept there are either going to be left in PNG, or be transferred to detention in Nauru — neither of which are great options.
The international community shouldn’t allow Australia to abandons these vulnerable refugees in PNG, after they detained them for nearly a decade.
US, Canada and NZ support needed as Australia abandons refugees in PNG – Refugee Council of Australia https://t.co/g1ba9AfXeY
— Abdul Aziz Adam (@Abdulaziz_Ada) October 6, 2021
There are currently around 124 men who are still in PNG, and some have spoken out about how these changes don’t provide any real options.
While Alam Bhuiyan, who has been on Manus Island for nearly eight years, has started a family and a small business in PNG and is content with staying, others are not.
Bangladeshi refugee Nurul Islam, who has also been in PNG for eight years, told ABC that staying there didn’t guarantee him safety, but neither does going to Nauru.
“This area is not safe for me … we cannot move around freely. We don’t have access to medical [care],” Islam said, telling ABC that he tried to get medical treatment but it was inadequate. He also said he was scared for his wife and two daughters.
Former Manus Island detainee Thanush Selvarasa, who was released from detention in Melbourne earlier this year, told SBS that detention had ruined his and many other refugee’s lives.
“Day by day, we were destroyed physically and mentally. No one can live there anymore. It is hard to explain the island. It is a different type of torture,” he told SBS News.
“We were punished for more than eight years. We are not a border protection tool.”
Whilst welcomed news, spare a thought for refugees still detained in PNG after more than 8 years. Instead of moving people to another form of detention, how about just accepting New Zealand’s offer to resettle refugees? #GameOver @amnestyOz https://t.co/rz1ZSZousy
— Ry Atkinson (@rylukaa) October 6, 2021
The decision to abandon refugees who Australia is responsible for having been left in PNG in the first place has been criticised by asylum seeker advocates.
“Papua New Guinea is not in a position to safely resettle people at the moment,” Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s director of advocacy and campaigns, Jana Favero, said.
“COVID is rampant. There’s only 2 per cent of the population who are vaccinated.”
PNG’s Supreme Court found Australia’s detention of refugees on Manus Island to be illegal in 2016, and last year, the ICC found that Australia’s offshore detention is unlawful, and that our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is “cruel, inhuman or degrading”.
Greens Senator Nick McKim condemned offshore processing as a whole.
“There is no doubt that the men from Manus Island were – and in some cases still are – political prisoners,” he said, per SBS News.
“They are like the corpses that used to be impaled on the walls of medieval cities to dissuade other desperate people from trying to enter.”
“People who sought asylum in Australia remain Australia’s responsibility under international law, and no amount of bureaucratic maneuvering can change that fact,” he said.
“The people remaining in Papua New Guinea should be brought immediately to Australia and allowed to resettle here.”