SENIOR officials from the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments are working together to resettle 850 male asylum seekers held at the Manus Regional Processing Centre, following a PNG Supreme Court decision.
The Court decided on 27 April that the detention of asylum seekers bound for Australia on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island violated the right to personal liberty upheld in the PNG constitution.
A five-member bench of the court ordered both governments to immediately take steps to end the detention of asylum seekers at the centre – where roughly half of the detainees have been found to be refugees.
Australia and PNG have announced they will cooperate to ensure PNG complies with the decision, agreeing to meet regularly in the coming weeks in support of achieving these outcomes.
PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill said the government would seek to minimise damage of the closure of the centre to businesses and workers, noting that it would have a negative effect on the local economy on Manus.
“These are many small and medium enterprises and their employees who will now be out of work,” he said.
“A number of local businesses have invested to expand their operations to support the Manus centre, and their businesses will now suffer.”
Nonetheless, Mr O’Neill has said he was proud that PNG had been able to play an important part in stopping the loss of life that was occurring due to people smuggling.
“Papua New Guinea offered to help when we saw thousands of children, women and men losing their lives as they attempted to make their journey between Java and Christmas Island,” he said.
“While there may be critics, we must never forget that this policy has stopped many people from losing their lives at sea… there can be no justification for the vile trade in human misery that is peddled by people smugglers.”
The prime minister said negotiations with Australia will focus on the timeframe for closing the Manus facility and managing the settlement of legitimate refugees who are interested in staying in Papua New Guinea.
“For those that have been deemed to be legitimate refugees, we invite them to live in Papua New Guinea only if they want to be a part of our society and make a contribution to our community,” he said.
“It is clear that several of these refugees do not want to settle in Papua New Guinea and that is their decision.”
Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton, a member of the governing Liberal party, said in May that the Manus Island facility was a matter for Papua New Guinea.
“That’s the basis on which we will work with the PNG authorities and it’s a similar case, of course, for Nauru where they’re a sovereign nation and they have responsibility for their regional processing centre.”
Mr Dutton said this did not mean Australia would renegotiate the contract for service provision to the facility.
“There are still support services that are provided. We obviously provide funding to the PNG government and to organisations to provide those health services, those meals, all those services,” he said.
“There’s no detention on Nauru. It’s an open arrangement there, 24/7 open centre arrangement, and if PNG are heading down that track well that’s really an issue for the PNG Government to comment on.”
Australia was in the middle of an election campaign as PNG Resources went to press, with the issue of asylum seekers remaining a hot button issue during the campaign.
The Australian Labor Party, Australia’s major opposition party, is also committed to offshore processing and regional resettlement, but has pledged to increase oversight at these facilities.