Refugee Council of Australia
Jetty on Manus Island

Until when: The forgotten men of Manus Island

Until when?

The refugees are never certain of their future … they are in a hole, put a lid to a little hole to breathe some air.

– Local Manus resident, May 2018

For the men on Manus and in PNG, there appears to be no real way out. Although Australia struck a deal with Cambodia to resettle refugees on Nauru, it did not apply to refugees in PNG. There is an agreement between Australia and the US to resettle about 1,250 people from Nauru and in PNG, as well as a standing offer by New Zealand to resettle 150 refugees which has not yet been accepted. However, both the US and New Zealand have expressed a preference for women, children and families, leaving the men on Manus Island lower on the priority list. More than half of the men in PNG are from countries subject to ‘extreme vetting’ under US policy. Only a couple of people have been able to get to another country, including one person who has reached Canada and another to northern Europe, through other schemes. There are no resettlement options at all for those who have not been recognised as refugees. Although 79% of those now in PNG have been recognised as refugees, there are real concerns about the robustness of the process, especially as around 60 people did not participate in the process and many were given a negative status without assessment. For those in this position, the risk of being forced to go home are becoming much more real, with 12 out of the 20 known deportations in 2018 alone. As already discussed, in recent years there has been a decline in the number of transfers of people in PNG to Australia for medical or protection reasons. For those who have been transferred, life in Australia is a life in limbo, with no legal protection from being transferred back to PNG. Increasingly, too, the Australian Government has been stripping these people of the most basic of supports, such as income support and subsidised medication, and leaving them destitute. For many, the choice is between a tenuous life in PNG, where they struggle to find sustainable work that is paid at a fair wage, or ‘voluntarily’ returning home to face danger. For some, there are also real fears for their safety in the PNG community. The intense pressure to ‘voluntarily’ return, and the lack of other options, has meant that, of the 1,523 people sent to Manus, 646 (42%) people have been ‘voluntarily’ returned to their country of origin. For the most part, we do not know where they have been sent, or what has happened to them.


The US

On 13 November 2016, the Australian Government announced it had reached a deal with the US government to resettle people in offshore facilities to the United States of America. The resettlement process was to be “gradual” and subject to standard resettlement admissions for the US. The US government has indicated that there is an ‘indicative target’ of 1,250 people from both Nauru and PNG who could be resettled under the deal. Even if fully achieved, this leaves behind a significant number of people in both places. Priority was to be given to the vulnerable, “namely women, children and families”, meaning that the men in PNG are a lower priority than families on Nauru. This is borne out by the current rate of resettlement, as indicated in the following chart.

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