02/28/2014, 00.00
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Manus Island is the wrong (and unfair) answer to the migrant problem

by Giorgio Licini*
Australian immigration policies are becoming increasingly restrictive, and the people of Papua New Guinea and refugees turned away by Canberra are paying the price. The two governments should make an effort and find a solution real to the issue as soon as possible.

Port Moresby (AsiaNews) - On 17 February, the Manus saga took a turn for the worse when an Iranian asylum seeker identified as Reza Barati, 23, was murdered inside the makeshift refugee camp.  The public outcry can only partially contribute to understanding and finding a solution to the problem.

In our view, a few things need to be considered in order to address the issue with the mind rather than the guts. The first is that the number of asylum seekers and economic migrants is huge all over the world.

The three main focal points are probably the US-Mexico border in the Americas, the Mediterranean Sea in Europe and the sea between Australia and South-East Asia.

Poor or persecuted people try to reach either the US, Europe, or Australia. Any other country of transit is considered a temporary stay.

A large number of asylum seeker requests are processed by the competent agency of the United Nations.

Another large number of people, however, try to get into the above mentioned affluent, tolerant and free countries by their own means; a process that is technically speaking illegal.

In principle, countries have to defend themselves from indiscriminate immigration assaults. Australia is already accepting a good number of refugees through UN channels every year.

For the thousands more trying to cross the sea illegally, they have now devised a "solution" to keep them on Indonesia shores and deny them any chance to settle in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.

The new arrivals are taken to the remote island of Manus in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and then sent back to their country of origin.

If they are genuine refugees, however, they are being promised resettlement in the PNG Guinea, which is something they do not like.

The PNG is in an awkward position. Riddled by corruption and frequently depending on Australian aid, our government cannot refuse to "help" Australia when requested by the Rudd administration to scare off boat people by keeping them on Manus Island.

The result is that today the PNG is holding hundreds of people on its territory in an illegal manner: they have done nothing against Papua New Guinea citizens or property! They never tried to violate our national borders!

What if Australia decides to pack up and leave them behind? Should we resettle refugees in the PNG?

We do not know if the two governments are serious about it or if it is just a strategy to discourage anybody else to reach Australia illegally.

Some educated refugees could probably be offered a job in the PNG at the LNG project or other companies.

However, does Papua New Guinea have the capacity to cater to their cultural adjustment, emotional impact, health, education and safeguard of traditions including religious ones? Can the PNG assure them immunity from tuberculosis and malaria? Will they really integrate in a country they never knew about that cannot offer them much?

In the meantime, Manus Island will continue to be a dangerous place. Fights break out all the time. Much more than in a prison camp. When this occurs Papuans, either police officers or security guards, start shouting "paitim em, kilim em".

People are hit, shot and cut. They die and the PNG once again pays the price of international ostracism.

The Manus "solution" is the wrong (and unfair) answer to a real problem. Australia should make an effort and rethink the whole issue!

* Missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Papua New Guinea.

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