Media Release: JRS calls on the Australian government to reveal true cost of PNG policy and to strengthen safe pathways
Jesuit Refugee Service has condemned the Australian government’s ‘PNG Solution’ and has called on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to disclose the true cost of this cruel and inhumane policy – not only to the Australian taxpayer, but to the community of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the lives of those people seeking refuge in Australia.
Mr Rudd has claimed that the program – in which all asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat will be transferred to PNG and refused permanent settlement in Australia – will be ‘budget-neutral’. JRS refutes this claim, and points out that while Australia currently hosts only 0.3% of the world’s refugees, it already currently plans to spend $2.3 billion on offshore processing centres in Naurus and Manu. This is despite the fact that it has the capacity to resettle these people onshore.
Sending asylum seekers to PNG is a punitive, ill-considered and rushed policy announcement, seemingly designed to win an election rather than to strengthen safe pathways for those fleeing persecution. Australia should honour its moral and legal obligations and should not shift this responsibility to an impoverished neighbour.
With over 40 per cent of its current population living in poverty, PNG lacks the resources and services to provide for its own citizens, let alone refugees who require specialised services and support of the kind offered by agencies such as JRS. Moreover, although PNG is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, refugees in that country continue to be denied the right to freedom of movement, education, housing and employment.
PNG already hosts over 10,000 refugees from West Papua who compete with locals for scant employment opportunities. Basic services such as education and health-care are scarce or inadequate, and without land rights and proper documentation refugees are significantly disadvantaged.
JRS opposes plans to expand the capacity of the Manus Island, PNG processing facility – which was criticised in a recent UNHCR report – and calls for an end to offshore processing. It adds that while states have a genuine interest in eradicating people smugglers, their punishment should not take precedence over the protection of asylum seekers and refugees.
JRS questions the government’s failure to address in its newly-announced policy the 10,340 persons of concern* to UNHCR who are left stranded in Indonesia. It calls on the government to increase the number of resettlement places for recognised refugees and to continue capacity-building efforts in order to ensure asylum seekers across Asia-Pacific can access safe pathways to countries that have the appropriate resources to host and resettle them with dignity.
Without such initiatives, policies designed to deter asylum seekers from reaching Australia are bound to fail; asylum seekers will continue to move until they find refuge. JRS urges the current Australian government to embrace its international obligations by providing humane and respectful processing systems for asylum seekers.
For more information contact:
Oliver White, Head of Policy and Advocacy, JRS Australia
Tel: +61 2 9356 3888
*Statistics as of June 2013