The most senior migration official in Port Moresby has issued a warning that refugees who were banished to Papua New Guinea a decade ago will be transported back to Australia if the Australian government fails to continue paying Papua New Guinea’s humanitarian program.
Stanis Hulahau, the chief migration officer for Papua New Guinea, stated that the refugees had been abandoned by Australia, and that the PNG businesses that had been housing and caring for the men were owed tens of millions of dollars. Hulahau was quoted as saying that the migrants had been abandoned by Australia.
“If Australia wants the refugees to continue to remain in Papua New Guinea, then they must fund the program,” Hulahau stated. “Otherwise, we will shut down the program, and the refugees will be sent back to Australia.”
The Pacific international hospital in Port Moresby asserts that it is owed close to $40 million, while a number of other service providers, such as security companies and motels located throughout the capital, are owed between $6 million and $8 million each.
PNG is still holding approximately 70 refugees and asylum seekers who were forcibly brought to the country by Australia. Many of these individuals have been informed that they are at risk of being evicted from the locations where they are staying since their landlords have not paid their rent in over a year.
The majority of the refugees that Australia transported to Papua New Guinea in 2013 & 2014, the Australian government continues to argue that it bears no responsibility for their well-being.
In 2016, supreme court of PNG found that the Australian detention center on Manus Island was operating illegally. As a result, the court ordered the center to be shut down. The refugees and asylum seekers had been incarcerated there previously.
The regional resettlement deal between Australia and Papua New Guinea was ostensibly terminated at the end of December 2021. However, there were approximately 140 refugees and 10 asylum applicants still in PNG.
PNG’s Immigration and Citizenship Authority will be receiving an undisclosed sum of money from Australia under the terms of a “confidential bilateral agreement” that Australia and PNG signed. This money will be used to offer “welfare services” to refugees still residing in PNG.
The Morrison government was the one to sign the secret contract, but the existence of the agreement was never made public. PNG has been promised a portion of the Albanian government’s $300 million budget for managing irregular maritime arrivals at offshore facilities, but the Albanian government continues to refuse to disclose this information.
There are approximately 70 males still present in Papua New Guinea; the vast majority of them are refugees whose claims for protection have been formally acknowledged. Others have been rehabilitated and reestablished in the United States and Canada, or they have relocated to Australia for medical treatment.
Hulahau stated that the financing from Australia was initially estimated to last until the years 2021 and 2022, and that the Australian government has not given any more monies since that time, despite the fact that refugees are still present in PNG.
“The cash that was supplied by Australia was expected to pay for services to be maintained for a period of two years, and [it] was based on estimates for caseload reduction over the course of two years, since it was believed that the majority of people who were still in the country would leave for the United States or Canada.
“However, we were not prepared for Covid-19, nor did we anticipate that the borders would be closed and vaccination cards would be required in order to travel.”
According to Hulahau, he has written numerous letters to the Australian Department of Home Affairs in an effort to obtain clarification over the future of the refugees who are still present in Papua New Guinea.
“We still have service providers that we need to pay for, and if we are going to continue managing the refugees, then we will need a supplementary budget to do so,” he said.
“Despite making two trips to Canberra in person, I have not gotten a response or any clarification regarding the next steps that need to be taken.
If Australia wants the refugees to stay in Papua New Guinea for an extended period of time, then they need to pay the program. If they do not, then we will discontinue the program and send the refugees back to Australia for management.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Home Affairs provided the following response to a series of queries posed by the media Australia: “The department does not have any role in the ongoing management of, or service delivery arrangements for, individuals remaining in PNG.”
“The government of PNG is responsible for addressing this issue.”
This stance is not supported by international law, which holds that Australia retains legal obligation for those it has transported overseas and that it handed responsibility for the men’s welfare to the PNG government at the end of 2021. Australia has declared multiple times that it transferred this responsibility to the PNG government.
According to records that have been seen by the Guardian, Pacific International Hospital is owing 90 million kina (A$38.88 million), while the majority of service providers, such as security services and motels, are owed between K15 million and K20 million.
According to the refugees and people seeking asylum who are still being held in PNG, they are currently living in a state of uncertainty and are facing an unpredictable and perhaps dangerous future. The majority struggle with severe and persistent problems affecting both their bodily and mental health. The Guardian is aware of a number of people who are sequestered in their rooms, experiencing severe crises related to their mental health, and are unable to participate in any resettlement interviews.
During the past week, one refugee was quoted as saying, “I hope that the Australian government… realizes now about the situation and the life of a refugee here.” They need to put the game away immediately before something disastrous takes place.
Just four months after the final refugees were relocated off of Nauru, Australia’s one and only “enduring” form of offshore processing, the detention center on Nauru, reopened its doors one month ago. It is believed that 11 asylum seekers who were traveling by boat were stopped in September and brought to the location.
The detention center on Nauru had been kept dormant — at a cost of $350 million per year – as a backup plan to send asylum seekers in the event that boats arrived carrying them.