The final group of refugees that are still being held in Papua New Guinea a decade after they were exiled there by Australia will begin leaving “within weeks,” the country’s migration chief has committed. He has said that the majority of the refugees will be resettled in New Zealand, while those who are suffering from acute health problems will be brought to Australia for treatment.
After the closing of Australia’s illegal offshore detention center on Manus Island, there is a heightened sense of urgency to address the circumstances of the final cohort of refugees and asylum seekers left in Papua New Guinea. This cohort includes those who were previously held on Manus Island. According to PNG officials, the Australian public money that was provided to PNG in order to care for the men following the closure of Australia’s illegal offshore detention center on Manus Island has run out. As a result, the men no longer have access to vital health services and face the possibility of being evicted, while local businesses are owed tens of millions of dollars.
Stanis Hulahau, the chief migration officer for Papua New Guinea, stated in an interview with the media that there were 64 refugees and asylum seekers who stayed in Papua New Guinea after being forcibly transported there under Australia’s offshore processing regime. The majority of these individuals were deported there more than ten years ago.
“I have had a number of discussions with my colleagues from [Australia’s] department of home affairs, and with the UNHCR: we are working to reduce the numbers right now,” Hulahau stated.
“We have a total of 64 people, both refugees and others who are not refugees. Sixteen of them are people with high needs, and for those 16, we have talked with the department of home affairs the possibility of having them relocated to Australia in order to receive specialized medical treatment there.
“Ten are currently in the process of settling in PNG with us; these are individuals who have tied the knot and started families.” In addition, we are collaborating with the New Zealand government to investigate the possibility of relocating more than 40 persons to New Zealand.
Hulahau’s outline was validated by sources within the Australian government.
The sixteen males in the cohort who are said to be suffering from acute physical and mental health disorders require extensive medical attention in order to recover from their ailments. Because it is believed that those individuals are in too poor a health to “engage in any resettlement process,” it has been decided to bring them to Australia.
According to Hulahau, it seemed likely that there would continue to be a small number for whom a long-term, lasting answer had not yet been established.
The Immigration Service of New Zealand has been requested for comment on multiple occasions but has not provided one. The results of the most recent national election resulted in a new government for the nation.
The final remaining group of refugees who were transported to Papua New Guinea under the auspices of Australia’s offshore processing program has become a contentious issue in both Papua New Guinea and Australia. As a result of Australia no longer being able to contribute financially, services have been gradually reduced or eliminated totally. As a result, the men’s health has worsened, and their living situations have become even more precarious.
Both governments are refusing to disclose the amount of money that Australia gave to Papua New Guinea. However, according to Hulahau, “almost all of the money has been spent.” Tens of millions of dollars were owing to a variety of local service providers, including hotels, companies that offer transportation and security services, and the major hospital in Port Moresby.
“The money is not sufficient to pay all the invoices that are owing,” Hulahau added, admitting that negotiations had taken place between governments concerning the money that was owed to PNG companies. “The money is not sufficient to pay all the invoices that are owing.”
Hulahau stated that the money initially granted by Australia was predicated on a gradually diminishing number of refugees being cared for, as more were resettled in New Zealand, the United States, or Canada. This was because the number of refugees being cared for had been steadily decreasing. However, because of the Covid-19 outbreak, Papua New Guinea was forced to restrict its borders for several months, and the resettlement operation came to a complete standstill.
“The model did not account for the possibility that Covid-19 would be present. Because of this, the borders remained closed, which meant that people stayed in the country for longer, which in turn led to the funds being depleted more quickly.
Before they were forcibly taken from Australia and brought to the Manus Island detention center, the majority of the men arrived in Australia seeking asylum in 2013 and 2014 by boat. They were then detained on Manus Island.
The supreme court of Papua New Guinea issued an order in 2016 mandating the closure of an illegal detention center that was administered by Australia and had a maximum capacity of more than 1,350 male inmates. After more than seven years, the men are still present in Papua New Guinea.
At the end of the year 2021, the government of Australia, which was led by Morrison at the time, negotiated a “confidential bilateral agreement” with the government of Papua New Guinea, which stipulated that Papua New Guinea would pay funds for the housing and welfare of the men who had remained.
Both the government of Australia and the government of PNG have stated that it is not a secret agreement; yet, despite repeated questions, neither government has disclosed any information regarding the specifics of the arrangement or how much it is worth. The government of Australia has stated that disclosing any information at all would “do damage to the international relations of the commonwealth [of Australia],” hence they have chosen not to do so.
Hulahau stated that Papua New Guinea was a hospitable nation and that its officials had “worked hard, around the clock” to provide essential services for refugees who were relocated to Papua New Guinea by Australia.
“In all honesty, we have carried out these actions and offered Australia our support.”
According to a spokeswoman for the Australian department of home affairs, officials from both Australia and Papua New Guinea are currently having conversations about those people who are still in PNG.
“The residual caseload of the regional resettlement arrangement in Papua New Guinea have options for long-term migration, including permanent settlement in Papua New Guinea; resettlement in a third country in the United States, New Zealand, or Canada; or voluntary return to their country of origin or to a country to which they have right of entry.”