Pacific / Papua New Guinea

Moresby move 'positive' for Manus Island refugees

13:41 pm on 21 August 2019

Moving to Port Moresby will enable Manus Island refugees to move on with their lives, Papua New Guinea's immigration minister says.

The 111th daily protest at the detention centre, 19-11-17. Photo: supplied

The government has offered men detained on the island for six years by Australia the opportunity to relocate to the capital.

The offer includes accommodation in Port Moresby and a continuation of weekly living allowances and medical care.

The minister Petrus Thomas said the offer was not contingent on settlement in PNG but the men would be encouraged to stay.

"This is a positive move for these men. Living in Port Moresby will enable them an opportunity to make their own personal decisions and move on with their lives. I am advised that many refugees have already expressed interest in the relocation," Mr Thomas said.

"PNG continues to encourage those that would like to settle here to do so. I do want to be clear that the offer to relocate to Port Moresby is only made to provide support and assistance to refugees and is not contingent on settlement."

Manus refugees continue to be resettled in the United States under a 2016 deal struck between Washington and Canberra, and Mr Thomas said 10 more men left PNG for the US today.

Petrus Thomas Photo: PNG government

"Many more will follow. We wish these men the very best with their new lives," he said.

There are now less than 370 men still in PNG under the Regional Resettlement Arrangement (RRA) with Australia and only 231 are "refugees not engaged in settlement", the minister said.

"When the government took office, the number of persons in PNG under the RRA was well over 500... That represents a decrease in the overall caseload of more than twenty five percent in under three months."

The decrease is in line with the desire of new prime minister James Marape to end regional processing in PNG, Mr Thomas said.

"The Prime Minister was clear, he wants the RRA processing in PNG to end and Australian service providers to cease - and that is what we are delivering."

The contracts of service providers operating three detention centres on Manus will end on 31 November, according to the Australian Financial Review.

The newspaper said the centres on the island would close at the same time.

Concern grows for Bomana men

There are fears for the welfare of about 50 asylum seekers transferred to a new immigration detention centre built by Australia at Port Moresby's Bomana prison.

Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said the men were moved there on 12 August and nothing had been heard from them since.

Bomana prison, PNG Photo: Supplied

"The families of the detained men have not heard from them. They have not contacted anyone. All our attempts to gain information or contact them through PNG Immigration, or the contracted security firm Controlled Outcomes, have come to nothing," he said.

Many of the men suffer mental health problems, and the advocate said they were "being denied care and tortured, with the approval of Australia, to try and force them to return to their home countries".

The Australian government spent $AU20 million building the Bomana detention centre, and for an undisclosed amount had contracted the Controlled Outcomes security firm, which Mr Rintoul said was part owned by an ex Australian Federal Police officer.

The Bomana men have been denied refugee status - yet many of them never applied for refugee status in PNG for fear of being forced to resettle there.

"Contact with the 52 must be immediately established. There needs to be independent oversight of the Bomana detention facility. The 52 must be immediately released from Bomana, and arrangements made for a review of their cases," Mr Rintoul said.