An open letter from the Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea to the Australian Parliament: today is the anniversary of the start of the policy of diverting all refugee boats away from Australian territory. Figures from the Refugee Council of Australia: 132 refugees still held in Australian prisons; 233 forcibly confined in Papua New Guinea and Nauru; 14 dead. "'End colonial behaviour that denies people dignity'.
Port Moresby (AsiaNews) - Eight years ago, on 19 July 2013, the Australian government launched a restrictive policy towards asylum seekers, closing the country's doors to them and diverting their boats to detention centres on the islands of Manus and Nauru. Marking this anniversary, the Papua New Guinea Bishops' Conference - the country that has taken charge of these people, mostly from South Asia and the Middle East - writes an open letter to the Parliament in Canberra.
The letter calls for those still being detained or forcibly housed in Papua New Guinea to be given the chance to settle in dignity in Australia. According to figures released by the Refugee Council of Australia, 3,127 asylum seekers have been stranded at sea over the past eight years before disembarking in the country.
Of these people, more than 1,200 are now in Australia, 132 are held in immigration detention centres and 233 are still outside the country (between Papua New Guinea and the island of Nauru). A durable solution was found for only 1,000 people, almost all of whom were resettled in the United States.
More than 750 asylum seekers were sent back to their home countries, either voluntarily or by force. At least 14 people died, including one who died as a result of violence at the hands of detention guards and six who committed suicide.
Below is the text of the open letter from the Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, signed by the secretary general Fr Giorgio Licini, a PIME missionary, and addressed to the president of the Australian Senate Scott Ryan and the speaker of the House of Representatives Tony Smith.
Today is eight years since the Australian parliament has legislated on the mandatory offshore detention for asylum seekers arriving by boat after 19 July 2013 and the prohibition on them of ever settling in Australia.
The people transferred in 2013 - 14 to Manus and Nauru, and some detained offshore or onshore till now, have served a crucial Australian interest. Their detention has effectively achieved the purpose of stopping the boats, thus allowing Australia to cordon off its maritime borders.
In truth, the Australian policy of indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees (or anybody else not convicted by the courts) sounds totally unjustifiable and unacceptable to us.
In any case, we firmly believe it should not apply to those who have served a paramount Australian national interest at the price of great personal sacrifice.
It is on this basis that, on this 19th of July 2021, we strongly urge the Australian parliament to legislate for the freedom and a home in Australia at least for those who have been detained in Manus and Nauru at any stage after 19 July 2013 and have no way, now and in the future, to be resettled to a third country.
We know that the remaining asylum seekers and refugees still in Papua New Guinea (127 of them according to the UNHCR) enjoy better freedom of movement than those transferred to detention facilities and “alternative places of detention” in Australia.
But you cannot think of keeping any of them here forever.
Under the current legislation, they have no right to be resettled in Australia. But they have no duty to live in Papua New Guinea either, unless that is their free choice. Australia forcing them to stay indefinitely on PNG soil against the wish of anybody here, contradicts the spirit of PNG self-determination. We believe it is time for Australia to erase any trace of past colonial demand and fully implement a new style of compassionate and participative leadership in the Pacific.
I can assure you that here in Port Moresby, not only us, but all those more involved in assisting the men affected by the current policy (particularly the PNG Immigration and the Australian High Commission) are all exhausted by the prolonged effort.
Please, close the Manus and Nauru chapter as soon as possible by allowing people who have sacrificed so much for your country, and whose acute suffering we see every day, to access a reasonable and acceptable level of freedom and dignity in Australia; specifically, those who have been in Manus and Nauru after 19 July 2013 and have no option for a third country of resettlement and, as we all well know, can’t return to their home country.