Future uncertain for refugees in PNG
The future remains uncertain for refugees held on Manus Island and slated for resettlement in Papua New Guinea amid concerns about whether the process can proceed, if the refugees can fit in to local society and how committed the government is to honouring its side of the asylum seeker deal it struck with Canberra.
As resettlement of refugees from the Manus Island detention centre approaches, there are more warnings about their prospects for integration in Papua New Guinea.
The first fifty refugee determinations have been made from more than a thousand asylum seekers held on Manus.
They tried to reach Australia by boat, but were detained and transferred to Manus under a controversial arrangement Canberra forged with PNG.
As Johnny Blades reports, their future in PNG remains uncertain for the refugees:
PNG's Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato last week hosted his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop for talks in which he approved fifty refugee determinations. Immigration is finalising visas for the refugees after which they'll be moved to a transit facility in Manus. PNG's deputy Chief Migration Officer Refugees Esther Gaegaming says once there the new PNG visa holders will be given cultural orientation and taught Tok Pisin, before entering the community.
ESTHER GAEGAMING: It's worth noting also that Papua New Guinea does not yet have a national refugee policy. That's being worked on and that will come out... our Prime Minister mentioned that he would like to see a nation-wide consultation and awareness programmer rolled out before that policy comes into play. But it doesn't stop them from moving out into the community.
But the Manus MP Ronnie Knight is among a number of leaders voicing concern about how refugees who come from countries such as Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, may struggle to fit into PNG society.
RONNIE KNIGHT: The view that we have from our local government is that we already have so many disaffected youths unemployed, what can we do with these new people coming in. If they are resettled in other areas, they will still face the same problems, getting into the communities and trying to find a job.
The government says it's looking to resettle refugees into communities where jobs matching their skills are available, likely to be in the urban centres. However, the experience of West Papuan refugees in PNG doesn't inspire confidence. Freddy Waromi is the chairman of the West Papuan refugee camp at Rainbow settlement in Port Moresby. Since fleeing from Indonesia decades ago, he and thousands of other West Papuans have been officially allowed to reside in PNG, but with a status short of citizenship, almost stateless.
FREDDY WAROMI: I was 25 years old, but you can imagine now I have grey hair (laughs). But what I should have expected from Papua New Guinea as a signatory country to the 1951 Refugee Convention, I have not enjoyed that obligation. Papua New Guinea government deny the right for us as refugees which is... we should enjoy having access to employment, education and health in the first place. So in our opinion, government just dumped us like rubbish in this place with the rubbish already dumped here.
It remains vague whether PNG's government has agreed to resettle all those asylum seekers on Manus found to he refugees. Signing the Manus deal in 2013, the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that PNG would resettle all the refugees but his PNG counterpart Peter O'Neill has increasingly distanced his country from this commitment. Ronnie Knight says he doubts the PNG government will see it through, but will instead look to have the refugees integrated into another country further down the track.
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