Eviction fear: PNG govt put on notice to pay up ‘outstanding fees' for Manus Island refugees

2:15 pm on 17 November 2023
Guards back at work on Manus Island.

Guards back at work on Manus Island. Photo: Shaminda Kanapathi

A group of refugees stranded in Papua New Guinea have been told that they will lose all services on Wednesday next week.

The group is a remnant of the hundreds of people once incarcerated on remote Manus Island after being intercepted trying to enter Australia illegally by boat.

Fears of their evictions in Port Moresby have been circulating for weeks, and now they have been told that all services provided will end on 23 November.

In letter sent to the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Authority boss Stanis Hulahau dated 8 November, viewed by RNZ Pacific, service providers under the Regional Resettle Agreement expressed their "grave concerns regarding the ongoing viability of the refugee humanitarian program".

The letter is signed off by the providers of health, mental health, and welfare services, accommodation, food and logistics, transport, security and immigration services.

"We are formally notifying PNG ICA that, as payments have not been received since the 1st of November 2022, you are in breach of contract."

The service providers said they have in the past requested for detailed response from the PNG immigration office "and commitment to payment for outstanding service fees".

However, the group claims they yet to receive a response

"We, as service providers have no other recourse than to withhold all contracted services until all outstanding payments have been resolved. This will commence on the morning of the 23rd November 2023.

"All access to services provided by us will cease from this date, which include the accommodation that they currently occupy, all transport services, payments of allowance, security services, provision of food and grocery vouchers and provision of immigration advice and client connect services.

"We regret the necessity of such action and would all prefer to work in an open and collaborative manner. But the assurances we have received of payment being imminent has not yield result, and as such our collective ability to work in trust has been diminished."

'Final straw'

The group are urging for "appropriate action" for the issue to be resolved "as a matter of priority".

Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul said many of the services have already been cut.

However, now the hospital that had been providing service, Pacific International Hospital, and accommodation will go on 23 November.

Rintoul said the Australian Labour government has to urgently "end the eviction threat and ensure the refugees have food and medical services."

"This is the final straw," Rintoul said.

He is calling on Australia's Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil to act.

"Provide the funds needed to support Australia's refugees, even if she has to fund the service providers directly, he said.

"The PNG farce has gone on too long. The assurances from Hulahau that the interruptions to services 'will be resolved in the very near future' are worse than a joke. Refugees cannot live on empty promises.

"The Australian government has known for weeks that the funds for refugee services have gone, mired in allegations of the corruption of PNG's humanitarian program. But it has done nothing to ensure the welfare and safety of the refugees stranded in PNG. Transport services were cut in early October," Rintoul said.

"O'Neil must immediately provide the necessary funds to end the eviction threat and ensure the refugees have food and medical services.

But urgent arrangements are needed to bring all the refugees to Australia," he added.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul. Photo: Supplied/ Ian Rintoul

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs