Australia signs new funding deal with PNG to support asylum seekers

The Albanese government is set to establish a new funding agreement with Papua New Guinea (PNG) to support asylum seekers, following PNG’s threat to return them to Australia unless a new deal was signed. This comes after the 2021 secret agreement made by the Morrison government for approximately 75 refugees and asylum seekers to remain in Port Moresby, after the closure of the Manus Island regional processing centre.

The funding from the initial agreement ran out within six months, leading PNG’s chief migration officer, Stanis Hulahau, to accuse Australia of abandoning the refugees and threatening to send them back to Australia. Previously, the Australian government had claimed no responsibility for the welfare of these asylum seekers and refugees, most of whom were sent to PNG in 2013 and 2014.

Recent government regulations reveal that Australia will now provide additional support and funding to PNG to help manage and resolve the residual caseload of asylum seekers transferred to PNG before January 1, 2022. The aim is to help PNG establish a sustainable settlement framework for integrating these individuals into the community, either permanently or temporarily.

The financial details of both the original and the new agreements remain confidential, with the government stating that disclosure could harm the bilateral relationship between Australia and PNG. The funding comes from the Department of Home Affairs’ budget for offshore management of unauthorised maritime arrivals, which was $477.7 million for 2023-24.

Further support to PNG will be provided under a revised independent management arrangement, following extensive consultations between the two countries. Clare O’Neil, the home affairs minister, confirmed the confidentiality of the support details, consistent with the previous government’s approach.

The refugees and asylum seekers affected by this deal were initially detained at Australia’s Manus Island detention centre until it was declared unlawful by PNG’s supreme court in 2016. About 70 refugees and asylum seekers remain in PNG, many facing eviction due to unpaid accommodation bills since 2022. Service providers, including Port Moresby’s Pacific International Hospital, are owed substantial sums.

During Senate estimates in May, home affairs officials described the original agreement as a limited, confidential deal to support PNG’s transition to independent management. Stephanie Foster, the home affairs departmental secretary, stated that discussions with PNG were ongoing to address their challenges but denied any formal claims against Australia by PNG.

David Shoebridge, the Greens’ immigration spokesperson, criticized the secrecy surrounding the deal, arguing that it involves an undisclosed amount of public funds to PNG for holding refugees who sought asylum in Australia over a decade ago. He called for the government to bring these refugees to Australia to provide them with necessary care.

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