“Please get us out of here”– concerns grow for PNG refugees amid violent unrest

The ASRC has received numerous reports from refugees in Papua New Guinea (PNG) who fear for their lives and safety amid 16 deaths and violent unrest in Port Moresby and Lae over the past 48 hours. A 14-day State of Emergency for the country was declared by PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape on Thursday, with the ABC reporting fires, riots and shootings continuing across Port Moresby and Lae.

Among the 58 at-risk refugees exiled to PNG by the Australian government, are some with young children and newborn babies, and at least 16 with severe mental and physical health conditions. From those able to reach out to the ASRC, the message to the Albanese government has been clear: “please get us out of here”.

Even prior to the unrest, the refugees stranded in Port Moresby have frequently experienced discrimination, violent attacks, theft and home invasions, due to the high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality in PNG. They fear for their safety and are too scared to leave their homes, unable to access basic supplies and medical care.

Tensions between Australia and PNG over a “confidential billateral agreement” established in December 2021 have caused a humanitarian crisis for the refugees, which has escalated in recent months. Many face eviction and have been cut off from food, power, and medical care due to widespread allegations of corruption and, according to the PNG government, the Australian government not paying PNG service providers for over a year.

It has now been more than 11 weeks since PNG Government officials said the 16 refugees suffering serious health conditions would be brought to Australia for medical treatment. The ASRC can confirm there have been no evacuations and the situation remains critical for those requiring urgent medical treatment.

Ogy Simic, Director of Advocacy at the ASRC:
“The situation in Port Moresby is at breaking point and there are 58 refugees who Australia is responsible for that are desperate for our government to bring them to safety.

“Right now we need our Government to act with compassion and bring these refugees, some with families and some seriously unwell,  to Australia – where they can receive the urgent medical treatment they need until resettlement options become available.

“It is not safe for these refugees to remain in Port Moresby a minute longer.

Faisal Elzeiny, refugee trapped in Port Moresby with his family:
“We are scared. All of the refugees that I know and have contact with are staying inside their accommodation and not going out.

“We do not have money to buy food, but even if I had I would not go out because it is too dangerous and everything is closed.”

A refugee in PNG for more than 10 years, who wishes to remain anonymous, said:
 “We are scared and did not sleep last night, there is no safety.”

Ian Rintoul, coordinator, Refugee Action Coalition:
“The Australian government must act urgently to bring the refugees in PNG to safety.  The dramatic deterioration in the security situation in Port Moresby has left vulnerable refugees even more vulnerable.

“Without transportation, safe access to medical support is impossible. New families have been left without access to basic supplies; and already desperate food shortages will grow worse.

“The Australian government cannot guarantee safety and security for the refugees if they remain in PNG. They must be brought to Australia.”

Background note for editors

  • The cohort of refugees still in PNG first came to Australia seeking safety over a decade ago, before being forced to PNG by the Australian Government. Many endured trauma and violence on Manus Island before the PNG Supreme Court ruled that detention of refugees was illegal in 2016. They lived in the Manus community until 2019 when they were moved to Port Moresby where they have been left in limbo ever since

Media contact: media@asrc.org.au

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