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.


Refugees may end up at a detention centre on Nauru. Photo by ARM User Facility/Flickr

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.



Main image made on Canva using image and AK Rockefeller/Flickr flag.