3 Nov 2017

Former PM blasts PNG and Aus for treatment of Manus refugees

2:10 pm on 3 November 2017
Former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare

Former Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

A former Papua New Guinea prime minister says the treatment of refugees on Manus Island by both PNG and Australian governments lacks human dignity and respect.

Sir Michael Somare said it was sad to watch the two countries "play football with the lives of refugees" against whom "acts of violence have been perpetrated with impunity".

Six refugees have died on Manus since Australia started transferring them to the remote PNG island for offshore processing in 2013.

Sir Michael, who retired from politics this year, said Australia was a large enough developed economy that should be addressing their problems on their own shores.

He said to exploit the vulnerabilities of neighbours like PNG and Nauru was disgraceful enough, but to treat human beings with complete apathy was ruthless and insensible.

"Descendants of many Australians who are opposed to boat people also arrived by boat before and after Federation in Australia," said Sir Michael in a statement.

"The hypocrisy is astounding."

The two governments are accused by the former leader of being indifferent to the refugees who he says have risked much to make perilous journeys to start new lives.

"I had raised this issue of inhumane treatment while in parliament and was accused of being party to the Australia/PNG plan to set up the Manus detention Centre," he said.

"I want to make it clear that when I took office in 2002, there was already an arrangement in place on Manus Island for boat people who had fled their homeland destined for Australia.

"As the Prime Minister at the time I honoured the arrangement of the previous government but once the processing was completed, my government put a stop to this so called Pacific Solution."

Sir Michael said that to decide to throw out the detainees on the streets of Manus was unacceptable.

"Manus is a small island with few opportunities and obviously compared to Australia, PNG is a small developing economy. The onus is on Australia to ensure that the integration of the refugees into PNG is effected properly.

"I am sure that many of the refugees are skilled people and with the right assistance can adjust well into our communities."

The former prime minister said Australia should not shirk its responsibility.

"Australia must provide support for refugees to integrate, and certainly has a large enough diplomatic presence in Port Moresby to provide adequate assistance."

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