The Morrison government aims to “wash its hands” of responsibility for asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, human rights activists fear.
Australia will end offshore processing in the Pacific nation by the new year, the Minister for Home Affairs and PNG’s Immigration Minister announced in a joint statement this morning.
The announcement comes five years after Australia’s detention centre on Manus Island was ruled illegal and forced to close in 2016. Asylum seekers were rehoused in PNG, mainly in the capital of Port Moresby, where 88 had their asylum claims formally recognised. Since the change, PNG has sought to end its involvement in offshore processing completely.
But when the conclusion of the Regional Resettlement Arrangement (RRA) was announced today, it was met with dismay by many. Under the decision, 124 men will be displaced in PNG. They may seek PNG citizenship or opt for transfer to Nauru.
Australians have campaigned for five years for the closure of PNG and Nauru centres, with thousands gathering for Palm Sunday rallies in Sydney each year. The #BringThemHere campaign and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Time For a Home Campaign saw 60 organisations rally for release and resettlement of asylum seekers last year.
“It caused such immeasurable suffering to so many thousands of vulnerable people,” Australia’s researcher for the Human Rights Watch Sophie McNeill said.
“It is alarming to think that Australia might just walk away and try and wash their hands of these men.”
Regardless of what happens next, one point of policy is clear: Australia will cease all accountability for asylum seekers in PNG who now have no way of migrating to this country.
“This offshore processing agreement has brought internal disgrace to Australia… It is laughable for the Australia Government to pretend it no longer has any responsibility to people it transferred to PNG,” the Refugee Council of Australia’s CEO Paul Power said.
The Government’s release cited Australia’s “strong border policies” as justification for the change, however Power believes Federal policies have been consistently tied to “the good will of other nations”.
Historically bipartisan decisions since 2012, when agreements with PNG were first signed, have moved Australia further away from taking responsibility for asylum seekers.
“There’s still a lot of questions of what will happen next and exactly what the plans are. I don’t think this will be the last we hear of it,” McNeill said.
KEY EVENTS IN AUSTRALIA’S OFFSHORE DETENTION POLICY WITH PNG
- 2001-2008: The Howard government opens Manus Island detention centre, before it is closed by the Rudd government.
- August 2012: The Gillard government and PNG discuss reopening of Manus Island after an expert panel recommends it. PNG officials and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young criticise the plan, but it is agreed.
- November 2012: 19 Asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and Iran arrive on Manus Island in PNG. Manus Island-based MP Ronnie Knight tells triple j Hack that five years on the island “is a jail sentence”.
- July 2013: With the migrant population on Manus Island increasing, Rudd announces no asylum seeker who comes by boat will ever be resettled in Australia.
- August 2013: Australia agrees to give PNG $400m if it continues to resettle asylum seekers offshore.
- February and September 2014: Two Iranian men die near the detention centre. Reza Barati is murdered, while Hamid Khazaei dies from an infection. A parliamentary committee finds the events of Barati’s death were “eminently foreseeable” because of poor oversight by Australia.
- February 2014: The Australian Human Rights Commission launches the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention. The inquiry receives over 230 submissions.
- January 2015: Conditions on Manus Island worsen, leading to a detainee hunger strike. Some protestors are placed in solitary confinement. Immigration minister Peter Dutton admits “a degree of force was used”.
- January 2015: Accounts are given of detainee mobile phones being seized.
- March 2015: Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Australia is “sick of being lectured” by the UN about detention policies.
- August 2015: The Australian Border Force Act allows up to two years jail time for whistleblowers in detention centres under the Abbott government. Workers challenge this.
- April 2016: The PNG Supreme Court rules that the centre on Manus Island is illegal, as it doesn’t guarantee personal liberty. This liberty is mandated under the PNG constitution. PNG’s Prime Minister says the camp must close. At this time, around 850 people are in the camp.
- April 2016: Detainees are separately based on the status of their refugee claims. ABC News finds the centre’s gates have been locked and phones banned.
- December 2016: Faysal Ishal Ahmed dies after being sick in the centre for months.
- April 2017: Shots are fired into the centre on Good Friday by PNG defence staff, injuring at least nine people. Australians are among those targeted. The incident is reported to be because of “drunken” local staff. Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull suggests the events were not the fault of Australia.
- June 2017: Australia offers $70m of compensation to asylum seekers who have been harmed.
- August and October 2017: Iranian asylum seeker Hamed Shamshiripour is suspected of suicide. A Sri Lankan refugee also commits suicide.
- October 2017: The UN warns that Australia’s impending shutdown of Manus Island could cause a “humanitarian crisis” as there is no clear plan for resettlement of 900 asylum seekers.
- 31 October 2017: Manus Island is formally closed. 600 people refuse to leave, fearing that they will be unsafe outside. Some detainees have been accepted to the US under a deal done with Australia, but other plans are limited.
- November 2017: Previous detainees are living in PNG and still don’t have homes or adequate protection.
- December 2017: Australia rejects New Zealand’s offer to take 150 asylum seekers, which as been on the table since 2014. Mr Dutton tells Sky News that “we don’t want people hopping on boats thinking they can get to New Zealand, stay there for a couple of years, become a citizen and then come to Australia”.
- March 2018: Opposition in Australia heats up. Protestors interrupt question time, angry at Dutton’s position on Manus Island.
- November 2018: Australia and PNG sign deal to turn Manus Island into a joint naval base.
- December 2018: Dutton hits out, suggesting the Labor policies will “restart boats” and cause border security to collapse.
- February 2019: Australian comedian San Ilic creates the ‘Where the bloody hell are you?‘ satirical clip to coax Federal support for those still on Manus.
- February 2019: Government loses votes to the Medevac Bill. Doctors can now recommend asylum seekers be flown to Australia for treatment.
- July 2019: PNG calls for an end to all offshore processing .
- August 2019: Dutton says refugee advocates have encouraged people on Manus Island to self harm so they can come to Australia for medical treatment.
- March 2020: Refugees from Manus Island who have relocated to Port Moresby say they have been attacked twice in less than a month. The Federal government limits their comments.
- December 2020: The Australian Federal budget allocates almost $1.2 billion for offshore processing across PNG and Nauru. Just 300 people remain in detention.
- October 2021: After discussion, Australia and PNG formerly announce an end to offshore processing.