PAPUA New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape called on Australia on Friday to set a deadline for relocating several hundred asylum-seekers who have been stranded on PNG’s Manus island for years.
Marape, who will meet Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra next week, told national broadcaster ABC he wanted to “establish a timeline” for resettling the remaining Manus inmates.
“These are human beings we’re dealing with. We can’t leave them all hanging in space with no serious consideration into their future,” he said.
Marape, who came to office less than two months ago, said he had already discussed the issue with Australia’s hardline Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who controls the immigration portfolio.
“I’ve asked him to expedite the process of phasing out the issues of asylum-seekers,” he said.
“There are genuine refugees and there are also non-genuine refugees. What happens to the rest of them we have in-country?”, he asked.
Six years ago on Friday, Australia launched its hardline policy of sending all asylum-seekers caught trying to reach the country by sea to offshore centres in Manus and the Pacific island of Nauru.
Thousands of would-be refugees were subsequently placed in the camps, where harsh conditions have been condemned by the United Nations and Human Rights groups.
While many were eventually resettled, about 450 increasingly desperate men remain on Manus, where there has been a spate of suicide attempts in recent weeks.
Another 350 asylum-seekers are still in Nauru.
Morrison’s conservative government has steadfastly refused to take in the asylum-seekers from PNG, a former colony, or Nauru, insisting this would encourage more people to attempt the perilous sea journey to reach Australia.
Since becoming prime minister, Marape has vowed to combat endemic corruption at home and rebalance the country’s relationships with allies and multinational companies exploiting PNG’s rich mineral resources.
He is due to arrive in Australia on Sunday on his first overseas trip as prime minister and will spend a week meeting with local officials and the large expatriate PNG community.
© Agence France-Presse