Australia to End Migrant Processing in Papua New Guinea

More than 3,000 asylum seekers are detained in Papua New Guinea, under Australia’s 2013 offshore policy, which prohibits the settlement of any migrant trying to reach Australia by sea.

About 1,200 have been moved temporarily to Australia, often for medical treatment. The rest were repatriated or got visas to other countries, including America.

Rights groups have repeatedly called the processing of migrants abroad a violation of international law. Australian authorities say the policy stops many asylum seekers risking their lives trying to reach their territorial waters in boats inadequate to navigate the seas.

Papua New Guinea is one of two countries in the Pacific Ocean paid by Australia to host asylum seekers and refugees. The governments of the two countries said Wednesday the agreement would expire at the end of the year.

The decision leaves 124 migrants still living in Papua New Guinea.

Temporary camp for Australian asylum seekers on Nauru Island (photo: doc).

Temporary camp for Australian asylum seekers on Nauru Island (photo: doc).

Officials said they could stay or move to Nauru, a small Pacific island, which is a temporary detention center off the coast of Australia that still exists.

Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, a community activist organization, said Nauru was not an adequate place for migrants to live. “There is also a big question about Nauru. I mean, the fact of the matter is, most of the people who used to live on Nauru are now in Australia. The circumstances on Nauru did not provide any security and certainty for anyone sent there. The government on Nauru is still struggling to provide the medical services that are increasingly needed for people who are victims of long-term detention.”

Papua New Guinea is trying to end its involvement in Australia’s offshore processing system for years. An Australian-run detention facility on Papua New Guinea’s Manus island was found illegal by the country’s Supreme Court in 2016.

Australia reaffirms its pledge to its offshore processing policy. In a joint statement with Papua New Guinea, it said, “anyone who attempts to enter Australia illegally by boat will be repatriated or sent to Nauru.”

Nauru, a small island in the Pacific, has a coastline of only 30 kilometers and is inhabited by about 10,000 people. Asylum seekers arriving in Australia by plane are much larger than those arriving by boat, but are not subject to offshore processing.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said last month Canberra had the “most generous” refugee settlement system in the world. The country grants visas to around 13,700 refugees every year. [ps/lt]

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