Port Moresby: Calls for a solution to Afghans rejected for years by Canberra
In 2013, Australia closed its doors to refugees and diverted their boats to the Melanesian islands. The bishops of Papua New Guinea have been calling for a permanent solution for them and for those arriving from Afghanistan in the coming months. A similar call was also made by the Archbishop of Melbourne Mark Coleridge.
Port Moresby (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands has launched an appeal for the relocation of Afghans who have been stranded in Oceania for over eight years because Australia has refused their request for asylum. The men and women now have no possibility of communicating even with their families who have remained in Afghanistan.
"In light of this situation, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, is making a call for solidarity and ressetlement of all Afghan refugees who still remain in PNG, Nauru, Australia and the general Asia Pacific region," reads a statement by the bishops released after a press conference held this morning.
Afghans are one of the largest groups of asylum seekers whose issue in Oceania has dragged on for years. In 2013 Australia - in order to stop landings - passed a harsh law that closed the doors to asylum seekers, diverting them to detention centres on the islands of Manus and Nauru. More than eight years later, several hundred of these people still remain between Papua New Guinea and prison facilities and 'alternative places of detention' in Australia, where they have no right to resettle.
At the press conference, a spokesperson for the 20 asylum seekers still in Port Moresby denounced how in all these years the Asia-Pacific nations have done nothing to find a permanent solution for the Afghans. "Our situation is very difficult because we are dealing with two states, Australia and Papua New Guinea."
The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has already caused half a million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and will produce a further flow of asylum seekers to neighbouring countries.
"These refugees need our support, both materially and in prayer, as they think about the lives of those they left behind in Afghanistan," the Papua New Guinean bishops wrote to the governments of the region, which should create "a special humanitarian programme to provide safe passage out of Afghanistan" for those most at risk.
Stanis Hulahu, Papua New Guinea's migration officer, said at the press conference that the country, like other Melanesian nations, did not have "a well-established humanitarian programme to deal with this situation", but was working to manage the arrival of asylum seekers in the future. A commission will be set up to determine who is entitled to refugee status. Hulahu also invited the bishops to take part.
In the meantime, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Melbourne, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, also presented the same requests to the Australian government in a letter dated 19 August addressed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, assuring that Catholic aid agencies "are ready to assist the government in the relocation of refugees".
The prelate then asked Canberra to provide at least 20,000 humanitarian visas for those coming from Afghanistan. That would be about 17,000 more applications than the current provisions.
"It would seem our moral duty to stand with those who supported Australian military forces as interpreters or in other capacities, who it seems likely will suffer reprisals and even death for their work," the Archbishop wrote. "We should also offer refuge to other Afghans who are likely to face persecution or risk being killed because of their opposition to the Taliban, or because of their beliefs, values and way of life, including members of the Christian community."