SYDNEY: Papua New Guinea said Friday that refugees held in contentious Australian-run detention camps will be resettled on the island, amid fresh scrutiny over the treatment of asylum seekers in the remote facilities.
Since the Manus Island processing camp was opened under the previous Australian Labor government three years ago, some 50 asylum seekers have reportedly had their refugee applications approved.
More than 900 men are held on Manus Island, while some 600 men, women and children are detained on Nauru, according to immigration figures from last month.
Those in Manus who are found to be refugees are housed in Australian-funded accommodation but not allowed to work, subject to a curfew and not permitted to leave the island, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has reported.
“Papua New Guinea has a proud tradition of helping people in need,” PNG’s immigration minister Rimbink Pato said in a statement.
“This policy affirms our humanitarian values and our strong regional leadership.”
The policy will encompass not just refugees from Australian camps but also those from Indonesia’s Papua province and others who arrive independently, Pato added.
There were no further details on where in PNG the refugees from Manus would be resettled, whether they would be allowed freedom of movement and what employment rights they would be given.
The government only noted that the Manus refugees would be given work at “various locations” in a scheme starting soon.
At the same time, more than 2,000 refugees from Papua would have their citizenship applications assessed from next month, it added.
The announcement was welcomed by Pato’s Australian counterpart Peter Dutton, who said it “demonstrates that people who are on Manus have the potential, if they’re found to be owed protection, to be settled in Papua New Guinea but they will not be settling in Australia.”
“And we’re able to provide others with assistance to return to their country of origin if they’re found not to be owed protection and that’s a very important step,” Dutton told reporters on Friday.
There have been several protests by asylum seekers at the Manus facility, including a riot in February 2014 when Iranian man Reza Barati died and 69 people were injured.