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100 Manus asylum seekers choosing to settle in Papua New Guinea

Almost 100 asylum seekers on Manus have chosen to resettle in Papua New Guinea, according to Minister for Immigration and Border Security Petrus Thomas.

He said 25 of the refugees had been accepted to live in the United States and their papers were currently being processed.

A total of 1550 asylum seekers lived at the centre when it was opened four years ago.

“The issue of the asylum seekers is not a PNG problem but we are giving them (Australia) a helping hand through the process,” Thomas said.

“In terms of support and services to non-refugees and refugees, it is basically Australia’s responsibility.”

Thomas said there had been some progress with refugees moving to the new facility at East Lorengau.

One non-refugee has already moved while some have decided to return to their countries.

“Whatever happens tomorrow (today), if they don’t want to move, I can’t pre-empt it.  We will attend to them case by case,” he said.

Thomas said the original refugee resettlement agreement would be reviewed to find a way forward after the closure today.

“PNG is requesting for a review on whether it continues the terms of the understanding on the type of support, period of support or the period in which those people will continue to remain in PNG,” he said.

“The key area to review is the resettlement of the refugees.

“Most importantly we will be working on a timeframe on when they (Australia) should resettle the refugees and non-refugees.”

Meanwhile, mental health is the biggest issue facing the 700-plus asylum seekers on Manus for which Papua New Guinea lacks the capacity to deal with.

The government is leaving the health problems, plus other services, to Australia to deal with as the four-year-old centre is closes today.

Thomas said PNG lacked the capacity to provide services on mental health problems which was a major concern among those who had been detained at the center for the past four years.

He did not say how many were suffering from the health problem but authorities were aware of existing cases.

He urged Australia to take full responsibility for their health and other services. There are 718 asylum seekers remaining at the Lorengau centre on Manus comprising 551 refugees and 167 non-refugees. Five had died since the centre was opened.

The remaining detainees will have to be relocated to the new facilities at the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre and the Ward One camp by today.

Thomas reiterated an earlier warning by Justice Minister Davis Steven for Australia not to renege on its responsibilities as per the agreement negotiated in 2013 between prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Peter O’Neill.

“PNG just came in to assist as we have a good bilateral relationship and friendship. Our Prime Minister Peter O’Neill in his wisdom decided to give a helping hand to Australia to process the asylum seekers,” Thomas said.

“The purpose of setting up the Manus regional centre was basically to process the asylum seekers and that process has ended.

“We’ve identified the refugees and non-refugees and now Australia needs to set up a third country. That is up to Australia to negotiate with other countries.

“We don’t know the negotiations with the other countries at this stage.

“Their position on how they are going to resettle the other refugees and non-refugees in the third countries and the other services that will be provided.”

Thomas said PNG’s position was to allow Australia to control as per their responsibility in terms of finance, health and other services.

He said Australia must continue to provide support and look after the welfare of the asylum seekers until all had been sorted out.

“That’s PNG’s position and we stand by it,” Thomas said.

A spokesperson for Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection said that Canberra remained committed to working with PNG on the closure of the centre.

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