O’Neill: PNG Asylum Resettlement Agreement Not New

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O’Neill: PNG Asylum Resettlement Agreement Not New PM claims nation stands to benefit from ‘expanding program’

By Isaac Nicholas

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, July 24, 2013) – Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has assured the nation that the resettlement deal on the asylum seekers to be held in Manus for processing is not a new arrangement.

Mr. O’Neill who arrived back in Port Moresby on Monday after signing the resettlement agreement with his Australian counterpart Kevin Rudd and confirmed that the first group of boat people arriving in Australia will be arriving in Manus in the coming days.

He said Papua New Guinea and Manus province stand to benefit from the arrangement which for the first time sees Australian aid aligned to PNG government priorities of health, education, law and order and infrastructure development.

Prime Minister O’Neill said Manus would be getting better education, health, roads and airport and the re-building of Lombrum Naval base.

"I think all in all PNG has done well out of this. So I think that this is a good deal for the country and the sooner we implement this deal the better it is. This is not a new program. The program has already been in existence, we are just expanding that program," PM O’Neill said.

[PIR editor's note: O'Neill says the arrangement enables PNG to benefit from about AU$500 million [K972 million, or US$463 million] in aid. O'Neill also says that refugees who resettle in PNG will not pose a security threat.

"Let me assure the people of Papua New Guinea that this is not a new arrangement. This was an arrangement that was established by the Howard government and the then Somare government in around 2006. It was stopped by the Gillard government, restarted by the Gillard government and now extended further by the Rudd government."

Prime Minister O’Neill said Cabinet last Wednesday approved the new agreements that were sought by the Australian government and agreed to it on humanitarian grounds and that it was becoming a regional issue.

"We are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention and as a member of the regional community of the Pacific, I think PNG continues to play a leading role ensuring that we play our part in making sure that some of the people coming into our region are looked after and processed in a manner that is acceptable."

He said the PNG government has undertaken to process all these refugees and asylum seekers who are coming to the region through an establishment of a permanent processing center that will also give certainty to the people of Manus.

"I believe that in the long term it will of great benefit to the region and the people of Manus province. I want to say that the processing of the refugees will be done in accordance with our laws. Nobody is breaking our laws. We will comply fully with existing laws. No laws have been changed to suit refugees that are coming into Manus province and that must be made very clear."

[Oro Province Governor Gary Juffa has expressed disappointment that the agreement was signed without consulting MPs. Opposition leader Belden Namah has also echoed similar concerns about PNG's foreign policy decisions. Namah says the extradition treaty between PNG and Indonesia was never made public, and the Australia-PNG asylum agreement compromised the country's sovereignty and breached the rights of asylum seekers.]

Mr. O’Neill said for genuine refugees PNG would see what quota it can resettle and then talk to other Pacific Island countries and the rest of the world to take them on.

"We are a member to the United Nations and a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and it is only appropriate that we do that. We must not be seen that we are a country that signs international conventions and is not wiling to take part in that. We must put good to our words that we are a country that is willing to accept those conventions and agreements that we sign."

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