Refugee Council of Australia
Jetty on Manus Island

Until when: The forgotten men of Manus Island

Life in limbo

Life in limbo


Around 460 people are in Australia from Nauru or PNG for medical treatment or other protection reasons, or accompanying a family member. It is unclear how many of them came from PNG, although, as Figure 1 indicates, fewer people are being transferred from PNG in recent years.

Those in Australia are in a state of limbo. Their presence in Australia is fragile, protected only by a government undertaking to not remove them without 48 hours’ notice. Most of them are in community detention (293 as of 21 May 2018), where they must live in a specified residence subject to curfews. Those in community detention are at least provided a basic living allowance and other critical supports including health care, case management and access to torture and trauma counselling.

However, in late 2017, without notice, the Government decided to remove these supports from 62 people, all of whom had been transferred from offshore. They were put on bridging visas (BVE) in the community without any form of support.

The Government did the same again in 2018, so that, as at 21 May 2018, there were 149 people transferred from Nauru or Manus Island who were living in the community without any access to income or casework support, nor access to subsidised medication. As a result, these people have been put at grave risk of destitution. Although the Government has given them visas that allow them to work, it is unrealistic to expect that people who have been in prolonged detention on Nauru or Manus Island and have been transferred for complex medical needs are in any position to find work.


As of 21 May 2018, only 36 people are living in the PNG community. In October 2015, the PNG Government adopted a National Refugee Policy. This states that the Government will ensure recognised refugees can work without a permit and start a business, have proper refugee visas and become citizens without needing to pay the citizenship application fee. UNHCR expressed its concerns that the policy also states that refugees should not receive support in a way that is perceived as special treatment (which ignores their inherent disadvantage), and that they can only sponsor their families once they have successfully established themselves and become self-sufficient.

The real challenge, however, has been that the policy has not been reflected in practice. In effect, life in PNG is a life in precarious limbo, rather than resettlement. The two refugees who tried to resettle in early 2016 both lost their jobs and became homeless. Loghman Sawari, the first of these, reported labour exploitation and was arrested trying to scale the fence to get back into the RPC.

Two years on, Amnesty International’s research shows that there has been no real improvement. Refugees have faced violence and discrimination in the community. As discussed earlier, there are fears for their safety and a lack of investigation and accountability when crimes are committed against them.

Those who have tried have struggled to find work. When they did, they were exploited, faced government interference with job opportunities, and lost their work permits. They received little support for meaningful integration.

Many are left in limbo because they do not have a regular status or work permits. They do not have access to travel documents, denying them the chance to visit their loved ones overseas. They also expressed concerns about their safety and did not know who was responsible for essential health care. One man told Amnesty International that he had severe pain in his left hand side and was told he needed an x-ray that would cost AUD 125. He took the invoice to PNG Immigration who forwarded it to ABF. After a month and a half, he had received no news and did not get the x-ray.

These concerns were echoed by the refugees who recently spoke to RCOA in October 2018. When they get a job, they lose their weekly allowance and have to find private housing but cannot afford even a small studio, as a large portion of their salary is taken by the job agency contracted by the Australian Government. They have to pay for the cost of their health care and, if they lose their jobs, they receive no support.

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