SYDNEY - Papua New Guinea’s new prime minister, James Marape, has called on Australia Friday to set a deadline for relocating several hundred refugees and asylum-seekers who have been stranded in his country since the closure of a migrant camp.
The Manus Island detention center closed in October 2017 after judges in Papua New Guinea said it was unconstitutional. About 450 former detainees remain on the island in community housing or in the capital, Port Moresby. Most are refugees who have been told by the government in Canberra that as part of uncompromising border polices they will never been allowed to be resettled in Australia. Few have any desire to stay in Papua New Guinea, but their presence in the impoverished country is putting pressure on health services and fueling tensions with local residents.
Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, James Marape, told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation that he wants senior Australian ministers to set a timetable for the men to be removed.
“I have met immigration minister Peter Dutton already," said Marape. "I have asked him to expedite the process of phasing out the issues of asylum seekers. We need to establish a timeline going forward and there are genuine refugees and there are also non-genuine refugees. What happens to the rest of them we have in-country? These are human beings we are dealing with. We can't leave them all hanging in space with no serious consideration to their future.”
Six years ago, Australia started its policy of sending all asylum-seekers caught trying to reach the country by sea to offshore camps on Manus Island and the tiny Pacific republic of Nauru. They were told they would never be allowed into Australia, even as genuine refugees.
Australia has argued that the risk of being sent to a camp in the South Pacific has been a powerful deterrent stopping migrants making the perilous sea crossing on rickety fishing boats from Indonesia. Rights groups have consistently claimed conditions in the camps were cruel and inhumane.
The United States has resettled about 500 refugees from the facilities under an asylum deal with Australia. About 350 asylum-seekers remain on Nauru.
Marape is due to arrive in Australia Sunday on his first overseas trip as prime minister and will spend a week meeting with government officials.