Opposition Leader Patrick Pruaitch has called on the Australian Government to quickly resolve the problem of refugees that have been stranded in Papua New Guinea and Nauru for the past six years.
Mr Pruaitch said details that have emerged about the billion-kina (A$423 million) security contract that was awarded to the Paladin Group highlighted the callous way the offshore refugee situation is being treated.
This Paladin security contract was awarded in 2017, a year after the PNG Supreme Court declared that it was unconstitutional and illegal for refugees to be held in a PNG detention centre and after the virtual prison was subsequently shut down.
Mr Pruaitch said: “These refugees came to Manus after perilous boat trips that have taken many lives and 600 of them have been left to languish on the island for the past six years.Following a visit there, the Catholic Bishops of PNG have said the mental health of most refugees has deteriorated severely and many are suicidal.”
The PNG Opposition Leader said the PNG Government had acted in good faith to allow the Australian Government to set up the detention centre as a temporary solution and as a deterrent to other refugees that might attempt to travel to Australia by boat.
“The Australian Government has shown scant regard for the local and national problems created in PNG by the ongoing refugee crisis. By its actions it has also shown scant regard for the plight of these refugees, a stance that has been condemned by the United Nations.
“Australia may regard these comments as harsh, but this is the only way Papua New Guineans can interpret Australia’s decision to reject out of hand a New Zealand offer to resettle many of the Manus refugees in New Zealand.
“Successive Australian governments seem terrified at the prospect of refugees arriving in their country by boat.
“Even though Papua New Guinea is a comparatively poor country, especially when compared with Australia, it has for the past generation humanely treated tens of thousands of West Papuan refugees who have walked across our very porous land borders. Today many of them are proud citizens of this country and no PNG Government has ever threatened to push these refugees back across the border.”
Mr Pruaitch said that from the facts made available the most generous interpretation that can be given to the lack of due process in awarding the Manus refugee security contract to Paladin is that the Australian Government is willing to allow Paladin to undertake covert operations in PNG.
“The only reason Australian authorities awarded this security contract to Paladin was because it understood Paladin would take over the PNG-based Black Swan security firm and through this, and other means, influence key political leaders within PNG’s ruling party.
“Australia’s role in this refugee crisis is deplorable from almost any angle one could take,beginning with use of its financial muscle and strong-arm tactics to encourage or force developing nations such as PNG and Nauru to accept the establishment of the detention centres.”
The UNHC Rrecommendation below is clearly supportive of the PNG Opposition call to the Australian Government to immediately seek a permanent resolution to the Manus refugee crisis, Mr Pruaitch said.
■ The Government of Australia should immediately identify and secure alternate durable solutions outside of the bilateral arrangement between Australia and the United States of America, including acceptance of the continuing New Zealand offer. Clear information on all appropriate available options outside of Papua New Guinea should also be communicated to refugees.
Picture courtesy: parliament.gov.pg