24 Jul 2013

Widespread concern in PNG at Australian refugee arrangement

2:31 pm on 24 July 2013

Questions abound about the consequences of Papua New Guinea's new refugee arrangement with Australia.

Following the agreement signed between Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his PNG counterpart Peter O'Neill, all boat people arriving in Australia who are subsequently found to be genuine refugees will be resettled in PNG.

As Johnny Blades reports, the new arrangement caught many by surprise.

While the deal has secured PNG extra aid from Australia, the initial political impact for Peter O'Neill looks damaging. There was little consultation on the arrangement and amid the subsequent public outcry, Papua New Guineans are concerned about potential long-term consequences. The Governor of Oro Province Gary Juffa says the Prime Minister hasn't properly explained how the new arrangement will practically work.

"GARY JUFFA: Kevin Rudd stating that they may be settled in Manus and other parts of Papua New Guinea. Really? Like, where? In my province? we're not going to accept them. Why? Because we have so many problems. We don't have land, we have a defunct provincial government administration that we are trying to review and rebuild. We're barely able to deliver goods and services to our people so I for one will say that I'm going to find it very difficult to accept asylum seekers or refugees in my province."

For Kevin Rudd, the PNG deal appears to have outmanoeuvred the Opposition on the hot issue of asylum seekers as Australia approaches an election. An Australian-based migration agent and human rights advocate, Marion Le says something has to been done to prevent boat arrivals and believes the new policy could work.

MARION LE: If we can stop the boats but also begin to really assess people or bring in some of the 40,000 people who are waiting in Indonesia who are UNHCR recognised refugees, if in Australia we can say okay we will take you know, say ten thousand of those people over the next two or three years, I think we can manage the situation much better than has been happening in the last few years here. It's been deplorable.

Any refugees resettled in PNG through this policy are likely to end up in PNG's urban areas in a pattern that some warn could prove explosive. The founder of an NGO which works with squatter settlement communities in Port Moresby, Father John Glynn says PNG is ill-prepared to meet obligations to provide these refugees with basic human needs.

JOHN GLYNN: This does not entitle the government to simply toss them into a settlement and say make out on your own, and we can't do that. This whole scheme, it really is ridiculous, it could even be dangerous because we have a lot of people living in the settlements here who are already estranged from PNG authority and ready to riot. And once this suggestion gets known amongst them, the situation could be dangerous, could certainly be threatening.

Gary Juffa says it's saddening and potentially disastrous that his country is being used as a deterrent by Australia to ward off asylum seekers.

GARY JUFFA: The entire country is not a bad place to live. It's our home, we love it. We have a tourism industry, you know? This is going to certainly discourage tourists from coming to PNG, you know they're going to look at this information and say, 'Holy crap. We don't want to go to that country'.