PNG processes most Manus refugee claims

8:51 am on 11 February 2016

All asylum seekers on Manus who are determined not to be refugees will have to leave the country, according to Papua New Guinea's foreign minister.

Rimbink Pato has confirmed that 514 of the asylum seekers on Manus Island have had their refugee status determined, more than half of those at the Regional Processing Centre.

The centre houses asylum seekers who attempted to reach Australia before being intercepted by Australia's naval forces and transferred to Manus Island, Nauru or Christmas Island for offshore processing.

Under the arrangement that Canberra reached with PNG in 2013, none of those refugees processed on Manus would be resettled in Australia.

PNG's Department of Immigration is overseeing the processing.

Re-settlement in PNG

In a release, Mr Pato said 472 of those processed had been determined to be refugees and were "free to depart from the processing centre and commence settling in PNG".

He explained that 61 people had already left the centre to undertake training to prepare for life in PNG, six of whom have relocated from Manus to live and work elsewhere in PNG.

This comes as an MP in Manus, Ronnie Knight warned about growing social problems around the presence of refugees in the community.

However Mr Pato said many of the refugees had skills that were in short supply in PNG and were needed by employers in order to grow the country's economy.

These refugees, the minister explained, would be given support to establish themselves in centres where they could obtain jobs, including Port Moresby, Lae and other cities.

However, while Mr Knight and others are concerned that there has been no clear indication of where or when refugees will be resettled, the government said refugee status assessments for remaining asylum seekers were expected to be completed by the end of next month.

Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato.

Papua New Guinea Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

Mr Pato said those who receive a negative assessment are entitled to have the decision independently reviewed - he expected the reviews to be finalised by the end of June.

He said those people not deemed refugees will be required to go home, and can either be asissted to return voluntarily or else be deported.

Tackling the West Papuan refugee issue

Rimbink Pato added that the government is working to resolve the status of West Papuan refugees who he said comprised more than 90% of refugees in PNG.

It's estimated there are around ten thousand West Papuans in PNG seeking refuge, although due to the flow of traditional border crossers across the porous land border with Indonesia, the true figure could be much higher.

Many have been in PNG for decades, living in limbo with permissive residency but essentially as stateless people.

However the government appears to have finally started the complex task of registering all West Papuans in PNG, with an eye to establishing a more permament solution on their status.

Mr Pato said the government had helped more than 1100 West Papuan refugees in Western province and the National Capital District to apply for PNG citizenship, and that it would assist thousands more in 2016.