The untouched wilderness and island paradise of Papua New Guinea often enchants first-time visitors. However, Australia’s harsh immigration policies and practices have recently come to light. Current news reports reveal a tale of cruelty and endless waiting for those hoping to leave the country. Here are seven facts about Papua New Guinea refugees:
- In 2005, a partnership between UNICEF, the Catholic Church, and the government of Papua New Guinea issued some 1700 birth certificates to unregistered refugee children. In a country where only three percent of births are registered, the project offered hope for many children. Although birth certificates are often taken for granted in first world countries, they are very important tools. They can ensure a child’s social, legal and economic rights in the country they live in.
- Australia’s strict refugee policy orders all intercepted refugees to be taken to a detention center on Manus Island. After countless scandals dealing with the horrible living and working conditions at the detention facility, the Australian government made the decision to begin winding down operations at Manus Island. As a result, the facility will be closed by 2018.
- New Zealand Prime Minister, Bill English, recently reached out to the Prime Minister of Australia and offered to resettle 150 refugees at Manus Island in New Zealand. The offer has been in place since 2013. Regardless, the Australian Prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has hardly acknowledged the possible benefits of the offer.
- Papua New Guinea refugees detained at Manus Island have endured horrible living conditions and physical strife. Nonetheless, Matt Siegel of Reuters says that of the terrible things these people must go through, the psychological effects are the most dangerous. “Some of these people have been in these camps for three, four, five years, and that leads to an enormous level of self-harm, suicide attempts.”
- Refugees who are resettled in Papua New Guinea are often resettled in cities like Lae, where the crime rate is high and the wages are low. One witness claims that some refugees work low wage jobs like construction but are paid as little as $12 a day.
- Refugees detained at Manus Island and Nauru have staged hunger strikes and peaceful protests to demand freedom. One reporter even described instances where some men sewed their mouths shut for a hunger strike.
- In 2016, Australia announced a one-time partnership with the U.S. and the U.N. The U.S. pledged to resettle a number of refugees from Manus Island. Priority would be given to women and children, with single men bringing up the rear of the priority list.
While steps are now being taken to close down island prisons like Manus Island and Nauru, there are still millions of refugees around the world looking for a new place to call home. One hopes that Australia and Papua New Guinea will do better to help those who dream of a new life on their shores.
– Mary Grace Costa