Will Albanese visit PNG but leave refugees behind?

Refugee advocates have called on Prime Minister Albanese to use his visit to PNG to ensure that no refugees or people seeking asylum are left behind in PNG.

There are only around 90 refugees and asylum seekers left in PNG from the more than 1000 initially taken to Manus Island in 2013. But they have suffered terribly; many of them are now in urgent need of physical and mental health treatment.

One Iranian refugee was recently hospitalised for over two months with severe mental health problems. Another Bangladeshi refugee, Alamgir, has liver, kidney and dental problems, as well as debilitating mental health issues.

Another African refugee has been chronically ill and regularly hospitalised with a serious gall bladder problem that requires surgery outside of PNG, yet he has been waiting months for treatment.

“The truth is all of them are in a bad way,” said Ian Rintoul spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, “All of them need help. Bodies and souls have been destroyed by Australia’s offshore detention policies.”

Tragically, the Albanese government has been repeating the Morrison government’s excuses, insisting that they have no responsibility for the refugees in PNG, since the Morrison government’s attempt to wash its hands of the refugees with a contract signed in secrecy in 2021 handing them over to PNG.  

But that agreement does not absolve Australia of its moral and legal responsibilities. The United Nations Committee Against Torture insists that Australia ‘maintains legal responsibility because [the refugees and asylum seekers] remain under Australia’s effective control.’

Labor has a particular responsibility The deal brokered by the Rudd Labor government in 2013 created the horror of offshore detention on Manus Island and introduced policy that denied offshore refugees resettlement in Australia. 

“The deal that dumped asylum seekers from Australia in PNG was only possible because of the neo-colonial relationship between Australia and PNG. Labor granted independence to PNG in 1975. Albanese should do the ‘adult thing’, take responsibility and bring the remaining refugees and asylum seekers to Australia.

“Some are waiting for third country resettlement, but some who were accepted for the US have already waited for four years with no idea of when they will eventually be able to get on with their lives.”

Father Giorgio Licini, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG and the Solomon Islands, who has close contact with the refugees in Port Moresby, said, “Refugees in PNG are in an awful situation. Australia has a moral responsibility for those they sent here. They are particularly vulnerable. They have no right to stay in PNG and there is no guarantee about their future. Australia should do the right thing, and take them.”

“The Albanese government says it is moving to address the legacy issue of permanent visas for refugees in Australia. The legacy issue of the refugees in PNG also has to be fixed if Albanese is going to be true to his word that Labor would not leave anyone behind,” said Rintoul.

Hundreds of PNG refugees, now in Australia, US, New Zealand, France and other European countries have recently written to the Home Affairs and Immigration ministers urging them to act urgently to transfer sick refugees from PNG to Australia. 

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713, (Media contact with PNG asylum seeker available on request.)