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Issue #1614      October 16, 2013

PNG reneges on refugee deal

The seven West Papuan asylum seekers secretly returned from Boigu Island to Port Moresby in late September are now under guard at the hotel where they had been taken on their return.

The seven asylum seekers were placed under guard after a meeting with PNG government officials last week.

At that meeting, Immigration officials told them they will be taken to the isolated West Papuan camp, Kiunga, in Western Province close to the PNG border with Indonesia. There was no discussion of PNG processing their refugee claims.

The officials told them that UNHCR could process their claims in the camp, but the UNHCR does not have a presence at the camp, or indeed, in PNG.

“PNG simply has no mechanism to process refugees and its reservations to the Refugee Convention means that even people found to be refugees cannot find permanent protection in PNG. The West Papuans must be returned to Australia so their refugee claims can be properly assessed and they can be guaranteed the security they need,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“It is clear that PNG has no intention of processing their refugee claims. [Immigration Minister] Scott Morrison flicked the West Papuans to PNG to keep them ‘out of sight and out of mind’ to avoid any embarrassment with Indonesia. Now, the PNG government is following Australia’s lead and flicking them to a remote camp.

“It is obvious that despite the MoU with PNG, there will be no assessment of the asylum seekers’ refugee claims. The MoU is a diplomatic convenience for both PNG and Australian governments to subvert the Refugee Convention and deny asylum seekers their human rights.

“The West Papuans have become the victims of Australia’s regional foreign policy arrangements that prop up the anti-refugee policies of Operation Sovereign Borders.”

Meanwhile, five Sri Lankan asylum seekers who spent a year on Nauru and were brought from Nauru to Curtin detention centre two months ago have been told they will be deported to Sri Lanka.

The five asylum seekers have been on Nauru for around one year and have been in Curtin detention since mid-August. Some of them had initial interviews, but none have had refugee assessments on Nauru.

They have been given no reasons for their removal from Nauru to the Curtin detention centre. When they arrived at the Curtin detention centre they were told that as they were now in Australia, whatever process had taken place on Nauru would be of no account, and that would be treated as if they arrived in Australia.

“This incident exposes the fiction that the Nauru government is running the Nauru detention centre or making the refugee determinations of those in detention on Nauru. It is a complete scandal,” said Ian Rintoul.

“It seems someone in the Australian immigration department is actually making the decisions about who is going to be processed and the circumstances in which they will be processed or not. Both the Nauru government and the Immigration department have some explaining to do – either Nauru is processing asylum seekers on Nauru or it is not.

“The Nauru government has already abandoned over 150 asylum seekers who have been assessed, but not told of the result of that assessment. They have been left rotting in appalling conditions in a bare tent encampment while they wait for the Nauru government’s decision. Tensions are again building inside the camp.

“But any asylum seekers brought to Australia from Nauru would be entitled to make an application for protection in Australia. That is what we expect the Immigration department to allow the asylum seekers in Curtin to do – respect their rights and allow them to make and properly process their asylum claims.”

Next article – Climate change red alert

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