PNG, Australia agree to resettle refugees

PNG and Australia have agreed all refugees will be resettled in PNG, weeks after Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said otherwise.


Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott with his Papua New Guinea's counterpart Peter O'Neill (R) (AAP)

All asylum seekers held in an Australian detention centre on Manus Island who are found to be refugees will be resettled in Papua New Guinea, the governments of both countries have agreed.

The announcement comes weeks after PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill appeared to reject the plan.

The first monthly Joint Ministerial Forum to oversee implementation of the Regional Resettlement Arrangement (RRA) was held in Port Moresby on Wednesday between PNG Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato and Australian counterpart Scott Morrison.

"Ministers reiterated that all persons transferred to PNG under the RRA who are found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG. No one will be resettled in Australia," the pair said in a joint statement on Thursday.

"Those persons found not to be refugees will be held in detention in PNG pending removal to their home country or another country where they have a right of entry. No one found not to be a refugee will be transferred to Australia."

Australia will meet costs relating to the settlement of refugees in PNG, while a PNG-based Settlement Expert Panel will report its recommendations on implementing refugee resettlement by the end of the month.

Both nations expect resettlement to begin in June.

Thursday's announcement comes just weeks after Mr O'Neill publicly watered down suggestions that all asylum seekers found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG.

At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Tony Abbott on March 21, Mr O'Neill said his country could not resettle all people found to be genuine refugees, and called on other Pacific nations to assist with the task.

"We expect everybody to carry the same burden as we do," he said.

Australia has also agreed to provide assistance to PNG for its investigation into the February riot that claimed the life of 23-year-old Reza Berati, as well as help arrange interviews with people who are no longer in PNG.

The investigation, now in its sixth week, has been hampered by security firm G4S, which was contracted to the centre until March this year.

PNG police also say they have not received any response to requests for help from Australian Federal Police stationed in Papua New Guinea.

They say a request by Mr Berati's room mate to speak to the AFP has so far gone unanswered.

At the joint meeting, Australia agreed to provide legal assistance for witnesses to the fatal attack.

3 min read
Published 3 April 2014 at 4:50pm
Source: AAP