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Papua New Guinean authorities have flown more than 20 refugees from Port Moresby to Manus Island, including some who were receiving ongoing medical treatment in the capital, in the lead-up to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference.
The move comes as the Catholic Bishops Conference of PNG called for Australia to take all refugees out of the country by Christmas.
About 70 asylum seekers and refugees, part of the cohort sent to PNG by Australia’s offshore immigration system, have been in Port Moresby for medical treatment which was unavailable on Manus Island.
But late last week and on Saturday some 50 were told by authorities that they had to leave before the Apec conference because the Pacific International hospital needed to be able to treat delegates and conference employees.
Guardian Australia has confirmed that PNG police assisted in the transfer of two groups from the Granville hotel, believed to include about 16 people on Friday and a further seven on Saturday. An employee said some had audibly objected to leaving.
Fewer than 20 were left at the hotel, the employee said.
As many as 10 of the men had not finished their treatment, Guardian Australia has been told, and they said they had been informed they would be returned in a month to continue it.
One man attempted suicide on Wednesday after he was told he would be sent back to Manus without treatment.
There are still about 650 men on Manus Island, living in purpose-built accommodation after the detention centre was cleared out last year.
Mental and physical illness are rife and acts of violence continue. Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian journalist and one of the refugees on Manus, said it was worsening. In the past week there had been at least two suicide attempts and three instances of self-harm, he said.
Some men – particularly those separated from their families – were despairing, he said, as the Australian government said it would get all children and their families off Nauru by the end of the year, while no action was being taken to assist the men in PNG.
The PNG Catholic Bishops Conference has called for Australia to resettle them all before Christmas, Radio New Zealand reported on Monday.
“PNG as a country itself cannot handle its issues for its own people,” said the bishops conference secretary, Father Ambrose Pereira.
“Imagine when you have people from outside. How do you cater to them? How do you provide health, for example, or education or employment?... While we are open and we would welcome them, we cannot cater to them because we cannot even cater to our own people.”
He said PNG people were ready to help Australia and the men, but “perhaps Australia needs to take up their responsibility more seriously and say, ‘We have brought them in, we need to settle them’ … this was only supposed to be a processing centre in operation for a year.”
The PNG government has been widely accused of prioritising Apec over the health and wellbeing of its people. The country is in the grips of a medication shortage, an outbreak of polio, increased rates of tuberculosis, and funding crises in health and education.
Last week a nationwide strike was called to protest against the government’s purchase of 40 Maseratis and three Bentleys, purportedly to drive Apec dignitaries around.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN/PACNEWS
Pacific Islands News Association
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International News Safety Institute (INSI)
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