What future for refugees on Manus and Nauru?

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16 Jan 2019

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

The future of thousands of asylum seekers waiting in Australia’s overseas detention facilities remains unclear, with the Immigration Minister unable to say what will happen if they’re granted refugee status.


Mr Morrison says it’s up to the governments of Papua New Guinea and Nauru to make those decisions.

Thea Cowie reports.

Nearly six months after the Rudd government announced that no asylum seekers arriving by boat would ever be settled in Australia, resettlement arrangements for those who are ultimately granted refugee status remain unclear.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says processing of claims has finally recommenced on Nauru and Manus Island, with Australian officials training locals to do the assessments.

Late last year, only one claim had been processed on Nauru.

Asked this week if there’d been any more completions, Mr Morrison seemed to suggest there have been none.

“I’m happy to give those updates when further have — but the processing has recommenced on both Nauru and on Manus Island. That is underway and has been happening now for around about three or four weeks. What had happened previously is the government was putting people on and off Manus Island — in particular — and on Nauru for some period of time. So as the processing would get underway, it would be interrupted as they brought them back and there’s been lot of disruptions. So processing is now back to business as usual and I’m happy to provide further updates when we have further information.”

Mr Morrison says on both Nauru and Manus Islands, Australian-funded construction has begun of accommodation for people ultimately found to be refugees.

But many questions remain: will they be settled permanently, will they have freedom of movement, or access to government support, or work rights?

Mr Morrison says many of those details are yet to be determined.

“Well, the situation on Nauru and Manus are different, In Manus they would have freedom of movement around Manus. They would have work rights and all of those normal things you would expect. In terms of access to other programs and things of that nature, that is for the Papua New Guinean Government. JOURNALIST: Can they leave the island? MORRISON: Again, they are matters for the government of Papua New Guinea and when we inherited this arrangement it was a blank sheet of paper and there is still a large amount of work to be done. The same is true in the case of Nauru.”

Nauru opposition MP Mathew Batsiua says he’s heard the government intends to develop a site to house refugee families separate from asylum seekers still waiting a determination.

But he says he’s seen no sign of the construction on the 21 square kilometre island which Mr Morrison says is taking place.

And he says getting information from his own government is proving difficult.

“We try to get information. It’s pretty hard to get information and it’s even harder to put pressure on the government because they’ve banned us from talking to the local media. So we can’t voice these questions in our media. We’ve tried in the past and the government has been quick to shut that down. They’ve threatened the media not to talk to us. And parliament is the only forum to get some sort of scrutiny and answers from government but even that seldom meets. Last year for example we went without a meeting for four months.”

Mr Batsiua says the Nauru opposition supports detaining asylum seekers for Australia, but only wants refugees to remain on the island while they wait for resettlement in a third country.

Mr Batsiua says locals are friendly and tolerant but the island is small and cannot host the refugees permanently.

“We think that’s outrageous. Nauru cannot possibly and adequately keep refugees here on a permanent basis. We will struggle that’s why think that it’s a mistake for our government to commit Nauru to resettle refugees here. Nauru just does not have the capacity and medical and education are just tow examples that we will struggle.”

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul says he’s concerned about the human rights of the refugees who the Australian government says will remain on Manus and Nauru.

“The government knows that neither Nauru or PNG are going to uphold those people’s rights and PNG in particular is very very stark in terms of their laws on homosexuality and the exceptions it’s made to the Refugee Convention and to its willingness to provide a way for people to be able to work or become citizens in Papua New Guinea which is certainly necessary if someone’s going to have some kind of secure future. There are similar issues in Nauru where government officials have said they’ve got no reason to resettle in the long term.”

The governments of Nauru and Papua New Guinea have not responded to SBS requests for comment.



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