04/28/2016, 09.10
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Manus island refugees "have already paid. Now they must be helped "

The Australian government agrees to close the refugee camp on the island, which falls within the sovereignty of Papua New Guinea, but does not know what to do about one thousand people living there. PIME missionary Fr. Giorgio Licini, 11 years in the country: "It is a huge problem that has no easy solutions. But you have to start by removing the causes of migration, not by rejecting those who suffer them".


Port Moresby (AsiaNews) - The Australian government has called for "urgent talks" with Papua New Guinea to find a solution to the question posed by the Manus island refugees. The Papuan Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to accommodate a center on its territory that is managed by Canberra, and ordered the facility’s closure. This, which has been long described as "a concentration camp", is home to more than a thousand people whose fate is now unsure.

A Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) priest 11 years in Papua, Fr. Giorgio Licini has been closely following the whole issue. He tells AsiaNews: "There are no easy solutions, but Australia will have to take these refugees somewhere. No one knows quite what to do, but certainly those people have already paid their for their flight with endless sufferings".

The question is not so much of racism or xenophobia: "Australians know migration, theirs is a nation built up by immigrants. And every year they rake in about 30 thousand refugees through the United Nations programs. But they are viscerally opposed to death trips, from the coasts of Indonesia to Christmas Island. They have always been very undecided about what to do with these poor migrants, but when they decided to stop the boats - after several tragic shipwrecks very similar to those of the Mediterranean - have become immovable".

Similar to the Mediterranean and the border between the United States and Mexico, this portion of the Pacific is in fact a prime route for those fleeing: here the victims are mostly from people from Southeast Asia, but there are also people fleeing from Middle Eastern nations.

To stop the flow, Australia signed an agreement with Papua New Guinea to manage the island of Manus: "And this deal has trapped those who have found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time: the Manus refugees are paying for everything, to deter smugglers and new migrants from trying to enter Australia. The thousand people are in limbo caused on the one hand by an immovable position, and on the other by the inability of Papuans to take in refugees".

The country continues Fr. Licini, “is not able to give asylum to anyone: there is no work, there is no support, there is no security. It is an ill-equipped environment for foreigners. Australia has instead means and programs, which are very effective. Their civil society simply does not want illegal migrants. Those arriving via UN channels receive great care: they are given language classes, employment services, economic support. But they fear the uncontrolled immigration".

The Christian Churches of the area, says the missionary, "all promote welcoming the migrants. But they cannot do anything in Australia. They have much less say than in Europe. But the solidarity of purpose, prayer, economic aid, to appeal to the governments there. Especially to protect children. The executive, however, is inflexible".

The solution, says Fr. Licini, "lies in addressing the causes of migration. The current situation in Syria is emblematic: now there is war and they must be helped. But at the end of the conflict they should be encouraged to think of returning home. They have the right to grow, live and die there: helping the reconstruction of their country. This is in my opinion is the policy to be put in place".

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