01/03/2014 11:12

Manus: the wrong answer to a real problem

By Fr. Giorgio Licini
PNG Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Secretary for Social Communications

27 Feb 2014. On 17 February the Manus saga took a turn for the worse when an Iranian asylum seeker identified as Reza Barati, 23 years of age, was murdered inside the makeshift refugee camp. Public outcry only partially contributed to the understanding and the solution of the problem.

In our view there a few things that need to be considered in order to address the issue with the brain rather than the guts. The first is that asylum seekers and economic migrants are in huge number 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 huge number of people, however, try to get into the above mentioned affluent, tolerant and free countries with their own means; a process that, technically speaking is illegal.

In principle, countries have to defend themselves from indiscriminate immigration assaults. Australia is already accepting a good number of refugees through the UN channels every year. For the thousands more trying to cross the sea illegaly, they have now devised a “solution” to keep them rather on Indonesia shores by denying them any chance to ever settle around Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane. The new arrivals are taken to the remote PNG island of Manus and then sent back to their country of origin. If they are genuine refugees, however, they are being promised resettlement in Papua New Guinea. Something they don’t like.

PNG is in an awkward position. Riddled by corruption and frequently depending on Australian aid, our government could not deny “help” to Australia when requested by the Rudd cabinet to scare off the boat people by hosting them on Manus Island. The result is that today PNG is holding hundreds of people on its soil in the most illegal manner: they have done nothing against PNG citizens or assets! They never tried to violate our national borders! What if Australian decides to pack up and leave them behind?

Resettling refugees in Papua New Guinea? We don’t know if the two governments are serious about it or it’s just a strategy to discourage anybody else to illegally reach Australia. Some educated refugees could probably be offered a job in PNG at the LNG project or other companies. But does PNG have the capacity to cater for their cultural adjustment, emotional impact, health, education and safeguard of traditions including religious ones? Can PNG assure them immunity from tuberculosis and malaria? Will they really integrate in a country they never knew about and can’t offer them much?

For the meantime Manus will continue to be a dangerous place. Fights break out everywhere. Much more in a prison camp. When this occurs PNG boys, either policemen or security guards, start shouting “paitim em, kilim em”.  People get hit and shot and cut. They die and 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 at rethinking the all issue!