Australia's PNG camp releases first asylum seekers
Australia's PNG refugees declared but concerns about their future in Papua New Guinea.
Two years after Australia's detention centre on Manus Island was reopened, the first ten asylum seekers have finally been granted refugee status in Papua New Guinea.
The new refugees had originally tried to reach Australia by boat, but were detained and transferred to Manus under Canberra's controversial asylum seeker policy.
But as Jamie Tahana reports, there are serious concerns about their future in PNG.
The announcement that 10 people have been granted temporary year-long visas under the controversial agreement was made by PNG's Immigration Minister, Rimbink Pato, while visiting Australia this week.
RIMBINK PATO: The Regional Processing Arrangement for asylum seekers is working. Those who need protection are receiving it. Non-refugees are returning home. Now that I have started to hand down refugee decisions, these people can start to take the first steps towards their new lives.
But Pamela Curr, from the Australia-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, says many asylum seekers are scared about the prospect of being resettled in PNG.
PAMELA CURR: They are extremely nervous and frightened about being resettled there. Indeed young men who are gay are terrified of what's going to happen to them. There is a lot of fear as to how the refugees would be treated in PNG.
But Australia's Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says a facility is being built in Lorengau, the capital of Manus, where those found to be refugees will receive services to help them integrate into the community. He says those issued with visas will receive assistance with language and cultural orientation and case managers will provide support. But where the refugees will go after receiving this initial support is unclear, as the MP for Manus, Ronnie Knight, says they won't be staying in his province.
RONNIE KNIGHT: The government thinks that these people are going to be settled in Manus, that is not true. They will not be settled in any way in Manus and I think it will be difficult for them to settle anybody in Papua New Guinea whatsoever. Bear in mind that 96/97% of the land in PNG customarily owned then the mechanics of surviving in the traditional lifestyle is not viable for people from such a diverse background.
Several other elements of the resettlement programme are also up in the air. Last month, prime minister Peter O'Neill said his government is going back to the drawing board on its policy, saying there was a lack of understanding and commitment from the public. And with over 1 thousand people still inside the Manus Island detention centre, Mr O'Neill has also said his country won't be accepting all of them. Pamela Curr says Australia's offshore resettlement programme is in crisis, and that even the ten who have been granted visas have uncertain futures.
PAMELA CURR: We feel that the PNG government is under pressure from the Australian government to make it look as though their resettlement is imminent. We have seen nothing in writing that would lead us to believe that it is as imminent as the government says. There's no one able to provide an explanation as to what their future will be.
Rimbink Pato says he expects to continue finalising refugee decisions at a rate of about 10 per week.
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