PNG says detained refugees are Australia’s responsibility

Papua New Guinea High Commissioner says talks would take place between PNG and Australia but responsibility for what to do with refugees rests with Australia.

Photo by: AFP (Archive)
Photo by: AFP (Archive)

A sign in one of many rallies in Australia calling for detention camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to be closed.

Papua New Guinea's High Commissioner to Australia Charles Lepani said on Thursday talks would take place early next week, but responsibility for what to do with the refugees in detention centres in the country rested with Australia which has remained firm against taking any of them.

Australia has sought urgent talks with Papua New Guinea about the fate of 900 asylum seekers after PNG announced the closure of the island detention centre after its Supreme Court ruled it illegal, adding further controversy to Australia's hard-line immigration policies in the midst of a general election campaign.

PNG's decision to close the facility on Manus Island, which follows the surprise ruling that the centre is illegal, is a significant blow to Australia's hardline immigration policies which have received on-going criticism for its harsh and inhuman conditions.

Lepani said the Manus centre, where detainees include around 400 men who have been deemed to be genuine refugees, was never intended to be a long-term holding facility and claimed Australia allowed things to "drag on" intentionally.

"This was the original proposal, to process these people, not have them detained for such a lengthy place of time," Lepani told Australian Broadcasting Corp Radio. "This is Australia's responsibility."

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs said Australia was increasingly out of step with international norms and PNG could bring Australia before the International Court of Justice to sort out the matter.

"The conditions on both Manus and Nauru are dangerous and unsustainable for legal and ethical reasons," Triggs said.

The number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is small compared with the millions arriving in Europe and border security has long been deemed an issue of political exaggeration in Australia. It will likely continue to be a key feature in campaigning ahead of the country's July elections.

Measures such as intercepting and detaining boats of asylum seekers at sea, and forcing them to return to their point of origin by firing gunshots to intimidate or detaining and transferring them to illegal offshore centres like Manus while refusing them settlement in Australia, have been strongly criticised by the United Nations and international human rights agencies, including the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said there was capacity for the detainees, mostly refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East, Afghanistan and South Asia, at another controversial facility on Nauru. However, he said negotiations continued with PNG about resettling the men within PNG or at a third country.

"Not ever before have we had an election that is so important in terms of national security' Dutton told reporters. "We need to make sure that we have strong, secure borders."

Nauru holds about 500 people and has been similarly criticised for harsh conditions and reports of systematic child abuse. A 23-year-old man from Iran set himself on fire at the centre in recent days to protest his treatment.

A refugee who wants to remain anonymous told TRT World that he was formerly released to Melbourne’s Immigration Transit Accommodation from one of the islands. The victim said he was forced to live in a small room of at least 200 people with only two toilets for everyone to use. He said the toilets were flooded up to his knees and he couldn’t wash himself for a whole month.

Broadspectrum Ltd, which runs the detention centres on Manus and Nauru, declined to comment.

Critics have mocked Australia's immigration policy on Twitter.

TRTWorld and agencies