PNG Takes Action on Refugees

04 Nov 2014

The Minister  for Foreign Affairs  and Immigration,  Hon.  Rimbink Pato,  OBE, LLB,  MP announced today that the National Executive Council (NEC) had approved action to address the situation of West Papuan refugees  living in PNG and asylum seekers at the Regional Processing  Centre for in Manus Province.

"PNG  is rightly proud  of our humanitarian  tradition  of helping those  in need",  Minister  Pato said. "For  decades  we have  hosted  Melanesian  refugees  from Indonesia's  Papua  Province. Some have lived their  whole  lives  here  and make strong  and important  contributions  to our community",  the Minister said.

The Minister explained that West Papuan refugees had been hampered by having no official status in PNG, no identity documentation  and no work rights.  "The NEC's  decision  will move people out of this limbo  and enable  them to obtain  all of the  rights and responsibilities  of Papua New  Guinean citizenship".

"Most  West  Papuan  refugees   already  meet  the  requirements   for  citizenship,   including  8   years residence,   knowledge   of  PNG  languages  and  respect  for  our  culture"  the  Minister  said.    "The Government   has  removed   the  citizenship   application   fees  for  refugees,   which  was   previously unaffordable  for most."

Minister  Pato  explained  that  over  the  next  12   months  the  Immigration  and  Citizenship   Service Authority   will   register   West   Papuan   refugees   and   assist   them   to   apply   for   citizenship   by naturalisation.     This  process  will  be  supported  by  the  United  Nations  High  Commissioner   for Refugees  (UNHCR).    Those who do not meet the requirements  for PNG citizenship  will have their refugee  status  determined  and,  if eligible,  assisted  to apply  for a refugee  visa.    All West  Papuan refugees will be issued a PNG passport or Certificate  ofldentity.

The Minister  stated that the NEC had also approved  for him to start making  final decisions on the refugee status of asylum seekers at the Manus Regional Processing Centre.

"These people will not yet be permanently  settled" the Minister said.   "The Prime Minister,  Hon. Peter O'Neill,   CMG,  MP announced on 19 October that we will conduct a comprehensive program of public  awareness  raising  and consultation  about refugee  settlement  before  developing  a new National Refugee Settlement Policy for Cabinet's  endorsement".

While this policy is being re-developed  genuine refugees will be given visas and moved from the Manus  Regional  Processing  Centre  to  a new,  purpose-built  facility  in  East  Lorengau.    These refugees will be given training in English, Tok Pisin and PNG culture.

This new facility will be run by ICSA and staffed by Papua New Guineans.   This will bring further employment opportunities to Manus Province.

The Minister  explained  that many refugees  have skills that are greatly needed  throughout  PNG. "We   have   accountants,    architects,   engineers,   teachers   and   many   other   skilled   people. Internationally  I have  seen  that refugees  are dedicated  people  who  truly commit  themselves  to their  new country  and  employment.   Businesses  are crying  out for these kinds  of workers.   If provinces  outside  of  Manus  tell  us  that  they  need  skilled  workers  to  help  boost  their  local economies, then we will support refugees to fill those jobs  while we are awaiting the policy".

"All  non-refugees  will  be required  to  leave PNG  -  either voluntarily  or through  deportation", Minister Pato said.

"It is right that we are working to resolve the situations of all refugees in PNG -  both Melanesians and those transferred here under regional arrangements" Minister Pato said.  "PNG is truly leading the  Pacific  in  providing   humanitarian   protection  to  these  vulnerable   people  who  have  fled persecution".

Authorised by:

Hon. Rimbink Pato, OBE, LLB, MP

Minister for Foreighn Affairs and Immigration