Recognising the plight of refugees

The National,Thursday June 23rd, 2016

WORLD Refugee Day on Monday, June 20, should have provided us a moment to pause and consider the plight of people who have for various reasons fled their homes.
Refugees are today a growing global issue that affects a large number of countries including ours.
Our dealing with people fleeing persecution, war, famine and economic hardships is determined largely by the country’s predominant Christian faith.
That is not a statement by an itinerant preacher but the country’s foreign minister at the start of the ongoing debate over the Manus Regional Processing Centre recently.
The minister rightly pointed out then that besides its international obligation under the United Nation, Papua New Guinea was also bound by its culture of hospitality and Christian faith peoples of different nationalities and races. Given that background and desire to assist its neighbour, PNG offered to reopen the Manus refugee processing centre.
That decision and the manner in which the occupants of the regional processing centre have been handled have come under heavy criticism.
The ruling by the Papua New Guinean Supreme Court that the detention centre was contrary to the country’s Constitution merely affirmed such criticism.
Some sections of the Australian society including media outlets and human rights organisations have relentlessly criticised the federal government’s treatment of boat people by sending them off to Nauru and Manus Island.
One such discussion was hosted by Radio Australia’s John Cleary on his Sunday Nights programme last week. Cleary had a panel consisting a nun, a lawyer and person of Tamil (Sri Lanka) origin and an Afghan discussing the issue of Australia’s detention centres and how difficult it was for boat people to gain residency and citizenship in that country.
Any refugee languishing in a processing centre tuning into the programme would have been overcome by despair.
The complex government systems make it extremely difficult to expedite processing for any foreigner who has already landed on Australian soil. Those held on Manus and Nauru have anywhere but Australia to hope to settle in.
For our part in the harsh Australian government policy on refugees, we are guilty by association for the manner we have handled them.
Settling the people on Manus anywhere in the country is proving to be unworkable. The first small group of men settled in Lae to work for a building company there are clearly unhappy and remain insecure about their future.
An article from the Guardian Australia published by this newspaper earlier in the week points to the predicament facing these resettled people.
The country’s socio-economic conditions are clearly not suitable for traumatised individuals running from war or economic hardships, except for the more adventurous.
In commemorating World Refugee Day on Monday Deputy Migration Officer for the Migration division of the Foreign Affairs and Immigration Department Esther Gaegaming said: “It is a day when we remember that lives can change dramatically where there is persecution, war or famine.
“When such events occur, it forces people to leave their homes and flee across national borders to seek the basics of all human needs, safety, security, and opportunity to once again rebuild shattered lives in dignity.”
Only days before World Refugee Day, a foreigner held at the Bomana jail outside Port Moresby, stitched his mouth to protest the unreasonable delay to giving him justice.
He arrived in the country in 2001 on his way to seek refugee status in Australia. He married a Bougainvillean woman and they have five children. He was arrest last August and sent to prison to await deportation.
He accused PNG authorities of denying his rights to justice as a human being.
Further to this individual there are several hundred West Papuan refugees also awaiting a final word from the PNG government.
Such slackness by the bureaucracy may be further testament that we are not prepared to assist.
There is a lot of work to be done to show the world that Papua New Guinea is doing its part in offering refuge, safety and hope for survival to the world’s refugees.
Despite our welcoming nature we seem unprepared to help any refugee to settle and forget his or her past.
And when someone else directs that refugee to our shores and expects him to settle down here that becomes all the more tragic.