If U.S. Refuses To Take Manus Refugees, Australia Will Do Nothing
By Papua New Guinea correspondent Eric Tlozek
MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, March 12, 2017) – I can tell you what the Australian Government is going to do about the refugees on Manus Island who won't be resettled in the United States. Nothing.
There are potentially hundreds of men on Manus Island who could — if the figure of 1,250 refugees to be taken by the United States is correct — be left behind.
Parliamentary Library figures show there are at least 1,616 refugees on the two islands — 941 on Nauru and 675 on Manus.
The US Government has said it is assessing them for resettlement on the basis of vulnerability, which suggests the women and children on Nauru will take priority over the all-male population of the Manus Island centre.
That could mean hundreds of refugees will remain on Manus Island.
Their only option to leave Manus is resettlement elsewhere in Papua New Guinea — something most have steadfastly resisted.
The PNG Government wants to know what plans Australia has for those men, given it wants to close the centre by the end of October.
Planning Minister Charles Abel outlined PNG's concerns after the annual ministerial forum between PNG and Australia this week.
"Some [of the men] are caught in the middle and that's the difficult piece that needs to be addressed in this short time frame," he said.
"What happens to those people that don't want to settle here and are unable to return home for some reason?
"That's an issue that both parties have to resolve."
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton came to PNG for the forum but declined an interview with the ABC.
He told me off-camera he had nothing new to say and there was no change to Australia's position — essentially that PNG signed the Refugee Resettlement Agreement with the Rudd government in 2013 and is now responsible for those men.
This would have been unwelcome news for PNG immigration officials, who came to the forum hoping for help from Australia.
The PNG Government has found resettling the refugees to be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
The number of refugees working and living in the PNG community — those who are considered "resettled" — fluctuates, but is usually less than two dozen.
Many find it too hard, or too dangerous, to live in PNG and return to Manus Island.
The ongoing presence of the men on the island, where most people still live fairly traditional lives, is causing an increasing amount of conflict and social problems.
Police have begun arresting more asylum seekers and refugees, while community representatives have been complaining about the behaviour of the men who leave the centre under the current day release arrangement.
The refugees say it has become more dangerous for them to be on the island in recent months.
Without a dramatic improvement in the resettlement program and to the living conditions in PNG, the prospects for any men not taken to the US are bleak.
Australia's response at the ministerial forum suggests that might just be considered tough luck, and something that is entirely PNG's problem.
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