Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has called on the Australian Government to recommit to finding solutions for 80 refugees still suffering in Papua New Guinea 10 years after the two governments signed their offshore processing agreement.
In the lead-up to this week’s bitter 10th anniversary of the Regional Resettlement Arrangement between the Australian and PNG governments, RCOA has written to Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil urging the Albanese Government to work with the PNG Government to find permanent safety for refugees still in PNG.
“We hold grave concerns for those who remain in PNG and continue to suffer in misery a decade on,” RCOA CEO Paul Power said.
“Our gravest concerns are for the refugees in PNG with the most acute mental health needs, especially those identified by UNHCR as being eligible for resettlement but too unwell to engage in any resettlement process.
“In December 2021, the Morrison Government ended the offshore processing deal with PNG, leaving the PNG Government with full responsibility for the refugees remaining in the country. As no impartial observer would accept that Australia bears no responsibility for the refugees it sent to PNG, we are appealing to the Albanese Government to review that decision.”
Of the 3,127 people sent to detention in Nauru and Manus Island in the months after the current version of the offshore processing policy came into force on 19 July 2013, more than 1,100 remain in limbo in Australia and 80 in PNG.
So far, more than 1,200 refugees have been resettled to the United States, Canada, New Zealand and some European nations. For the 1,200 or so people still in limbo, fewer than 500 resettlement options remain available in New Zealand and Canada.
Australia’s offshore policy has been widely condemned internationally, repeatedly coming under fire from United Nations bodies and national and international human rights organisations.
“The years of psychological torture experienced by people seeking asylum sent to offshore facilities has damaged Australia’s reputation globally and has set an appalling precedent for countries like the United Kingdom who look to follow suit,” Mr Power said.
“People who came to Australia in 2013 and 2014 to seek protection from persecution were treated cruelly as an example to anyone else who might think that Australia might help them. They have lost 10 of the best years of their lives. For more than a third of this group, the agony continues.”
Since 2019, RCOA has been working with MOSAIC in Vancouver and Ads Up Canada Refugee Network to sponsor refugees from offshore processing arrangements to Canada, under a partnership known as Operation Not Forgotten.
Australians have donated $4.9 million to support this sponsorship effort. So far, 41 refugees have settled permanently in Canada and another 87 have applications being considered by the Canadian Government. These applications also include 109 immediate family members seeking to be reunited after more than 10 years of painful separation.
“Operation Not Forgotten has been an important sign of hope during the worst years of Australia’s offshore processing policy,” Mr Power said.
“Australians opposed to their government’s harsh mistreatment of refugees have contributed generously and worked with community networks in Canada to provide a future for refugees left with no options elsewhere.
“This partnership has been supported by UNHCR’s Canberra office which has advised MOSIAC, Ads Up and RCOA on how to ensure that Operation Not Forgotten does not duplicate other resettlement efforts.
“Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet some of the refugees resettled to Canada during my first visit to Vancouver since our partnership was formed. While the pain of the past decade will take time to heal, it was so encouraging to hear people outline how they are working or studying and building new lives as permanent residents of Canada.”