- The Guardian
- Issue #2074
Photo: John Englart – flickr.com (CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed).
Last month a 34-year-old Afghan refugee, his heavily pregnant wife and two young children were forcibly evicted from their accommodation in Port Moresby.
The eviction on 25th September followed more than a week of threats by service provider MRT Holdings to use police to forcibly evict all five refugees from their accommodation and force them into housing owned by the main contractor’s father.
The young family spent the night in a hotel. Their future housing is currently unknown.
The eviction has highlighted the ongoing governance issues regarding contracts for refugee services in PNG (see last week’s Guardian). MRT Holdings seems to be a sub-contractor of Chatswood, the company which was granted the contract for refugee services following the Morrison government’s secret deal in December 2021 to pay PNG for welfare and support services for refugees forcibly sent there by Australia.
Around 24 refugees being housed in Citi Boutique have also been threatened with eviction by the end of October because Chatswood has not paid the hotel for the refugees’ accommodation for several months. Citi Boutique owners have already been forcing refugees to pay for their own electricity at the hotel for several months although Chatswood is meant to cover the cost of utilities for the refugees.
Chatswood had also moved offices to an unknown location so refugees are unable to directly contact the main service provider.
Labor has appointed Dennis Richardson, a former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Defence to investigate the integrity of offshore refugee contracts following revelations of Home Affairs approving contracts with companies linked to bribery investigations.
The allegations of corruption and nepotism amongst refugee service providers in PNG are legion. In 2019, there were revelations regarding the multimillion dollar security contracts paid to Paladin, which at one time had a company address on Kangaroo Island.
Richardson’s inquiry must be extended to include current contracts in PNG. The Labor government has been denying its responsibility for the refugees still being held in PNG by hiding behind Morrison’s secret deal.
There are around 70 refugees still in PNG. They are not safe, and have no secure future. About 16 of them are too ill even to engage with refugee authorities.
“Labor can’t keep denying responsibility for the refugees they sent to PNG in 2013. Labor should reveal the terms of the secret deal that Morrison struck in 2021. Ultimately the only guarantee of the refugees’ safety and security is to bring them to Australia,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
In January refugee advocates called on Prime Minister Albanese to use his visit to PNG to ensure that no refugees or people seeking asylum are left behind in PNG.
“The truth is all of them are in a bad way,” said Rintoul, “All of them need help. Bodies and souls have been destroyed by Australia’s offshore detention policies.”
Tragically, the Albanese government has been repeating the Morrison government’s excuses, insisting that they have no responsibility for the refugees in PNG, since the Morrison government’s attempt to wash its hands of the refugees with a contract signed in secrecy in 2021 handing them over to PNG.
But that agreement does not absolve Australia of its moral and legal responsibilities. The United Nations Committee Against Torture insists that Australia “maintains legal responsibility because [the refugees and asylum seekers] remain under Australia’s effective control.
Labor has a particular responsibility. The deal brokered by the Rudd Labor government in 2013 created the horror of offshore detention on Manus Island and introduced policy that denied offshore refugees resettlement in Australia.
“The deal that dumped asylum seekers from Australia in PNG was only possible because of the neo-colonial relationship between Australia and PNG,” said Rintoul. An Australian colony, PNG gained its independence at the time of the Whitlam government in 1975. He said the Albanese government should do the “adult thing,” take responsibility, and bring the remaining refugees and asylum seekers to Australia.
“Some are waiting for third country resettlement, but some who were accepted for the US have already waited for four years with no idea of when they will eventually be able to get on with their lives.”
Father Giorgio Licini, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG and the Solomon Islands, who has close contact with the refugees, said, “Refugees in PNG are in an awful situation. Australia has a moral responsibility for those they sent here. They are particularly vulnerable. They have no right to stay in PNG and there is no guarantee about their future. Australia should do the right thing, and take them.”
“The Albanese government says it is moving to address the legacy issue of permanent visas for refugees in Australia. The legacy issue of the refugees in PNG also has to be fixed if Albanese is going to be true to his word that Labor would not leave anyone behind,” added Rintoul.
Manus Island and Nauru first became the locations for Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres in 2001, when former Prime Minister John Howard launched the “Pacific Solution”.
Labor re-opened them in 2012 as part of a plan to prevent any asylum seeker arriving by boat from gaining resettlement in Australia. Liz Thompson, a former migration agent involved in refugee-assessment interviews on Manus, described the process on SBS’s Dateline as a “farce,” saying, “Manus Island is an experiment in the ultimate logic of deterrence, designed to frustrate the hell out of people and terrify them so that they go home.”
Offshore detention is designed to be so brutal that asylum seekers are forced into despair and agree to go back home to whatever they have fled. Twelve refugees and asylum seekers have died there.
TEN YEARS IN LIMBO
Refugees have spent almost ten years in limbo as a result of Australia’s offshore detention policy. Efforts to resettle them in third countries have been appallingly slow and difficult, with most countries rejecting Australia’s efforts to abuse human rights and keep out refugees.
In 2016 a resettlement deal was stuck where the US agreed to take 1250 of the refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. The first refugees were resettled in late 2017, after more than four years of detention. But six years after the deal was first announced some refugees approved under the deal are still waiting to go to the US. As of 30th November 2022, 1075 had been resettled there with around 200 others approved to go.
In March 2022, a deal was finally agreed with New Zealand, which agreed to take 150 refugees over three years. But less than 40 refugees from Nauru will end up in New Zealand, with most already heading to the US or Canada. The bulk of the places in New Zealand will go to refugees from offshore detention now in Australia, who were transferred for medical care or under the Medevac law.
The attempt to send refugees to Cambodia in 2015 was also farcical.
The asylum seekers and refugees must be brought to Australia, the country the whole world views as responsible for them. The offshore detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru must be closed.
To quote Rintoul: “Cruel, heartless and hypocritical refugee policies have to end. Labor said no one would be left behind, but thousands of refugees and asylum seekers are still waiting.”