SYDNEY – The government of Papua New Guinea has offered to transfer the 120 inmates remaining on the Papuan island of Manus since the closure two years ago of the Australian detention center where they were being held to the country’s capital, Port Moresby.
The proposal was criticized by immigrants and human rights groups, who said it would only prolong the “legal limbo” that the refugees have been in for six years since Australia resumed its policy of arresting undocumented immigrants who attempted to reach the country by sea and deporting them to third countries.
“People should never forget that we didn’t come to PNG by choice, we’ve been exiled to this place,” Kurdish-Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani, who is being held in Manus, said on Twitter.
Boochani posted the letter by the Papuan government in which it said that those refugees who agree to relocate to Port Moresby would “continue to receive services like those currently available to them.”
The government also offered one-off financial relocation support, health services and vocational training, but stressed that “relocation to Port Moresby is not permanent settlement in PNG.”
Amnesty International welcomed the proposal and said the PNG government was doing the “right thing,” but added that it “should not be seen as a fix-all for the terrible treatment these men have suffered over the past six years.”
“It is vital that there is a long-term plan for these refugees and that their rights are protected. We still have concerns about the men’s safety in the community,” Graham Thom, refugee coordinator at AI Australia, said in a statement.
AIl also said that the relocation plan must “address the need to protect the health and wellbeing of refugees in the community” and called for “greater clarity about their legal status and how it might affect their ability to settle elsewhere if they choose to transfer.”
The precarious situation of undocumented immigrants on Manus – which has been the scene of riots, clashes with locals and multiple attempts at self-harm and suicide – and at another center on Nauru has been criticized on several occasions by the United Nations and human rights groups.
Many of the refugees and asylum seekers who tried to enter Australia by sea have fled conflicts such as those in Afghanistan, Darfur, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria, while others have escaped discrimination and persecution, such as the Rohingya minority in Myanmar or the Bidoon in the Gulf region.