Refugee parents plead for children’s safety and urgent evacuation ahead of PNG PM’s visit to Canberra

MEDIA RELEASE: The children of refugees abandoned in Papua New Guinea by the Australian Government are suffering the impacts of deprivation, with many isolated, going hungry, at risk of starvation and facing homelessness. Parents who are scared for their future are pleading with the Albanese Government for urgent evacuation to safety – ahead of the PNG Prime Minister’s visit to Canberra on Thursday.

The humanitarian crisis impacting 55 refugees and their families remaining in PNG includes at least 33 children and two newborn babies. The situation has intensified for refugees in recent weeks following the violent civil unrest in January that killed at least 16 people and resulted in a 14-day state of emergency declared across the country.

Continued police presence and violence is ongoing, with ASRC receiving reports from parents terrified for their children’s safety and too scared to leave their homes. Last week six refugees, including five families with children, were given lock-out notices and face homelessness on the streets of Port Moresby at any time. Without access to accommodation and security, people are at further risk of violent attacks.

Children and babies of refugees are going hungry and at risk of illness with parents cut off from food, water, financial assistance, power, transport and access to medical support due to the Australian Government’s alleged non-payment of bills to PNG Humanitarian Services. The ASRC has received messages from distressed parents who cannot afford to buy nappies and formula for their babies, with some saying their children have not eaten in a number of days.

Safety issues and having no money to buy food and school materials means many children are unable to attend school, and spend most of their time in overcrowded living conditions as families wait for outcomes of drawn-out resettlement processes. The ASRC is currently working with two families seeking counselling referrals for their children as the impact of living in cramped isolation with no chance to learn and play takes its toll on their mental health.

Each night in Canberra this week starting at midnight, 78-year-old Brigidine Sister Jane Keogh will be sitting on the streets outside Parliament in protest and solidarity for the suffering and lack of safety for refugees and their families in PNG. Her vigil will run through February and March.

Jana Favero, Director of Systemic Change at the ASRC:
“For the past decade, successive Australian Governments have stood by and watched refugees suffer as a direct consequence of our failed policy of offshore detention. The Albanese Government has an opportunity to learn from its mistakes on Nauru – where we saw the devastating impacts of isolation, violence and deprivation on children – and to evacuate refugees and their families to Australia while they wait for resettlement.

“Each day they stay in PNG, their safety, and that of their families is at risk, while their mental and physical health declines. Refugees who sought safety in our country are our responsibility. There are no barriers to medical evacuation and action is needed urgently.”

Iqrar Hussain, father of four stuck in PNG for over a decade and still waiting for resettlement to the US after four years
“As a father, I feel ashamed and feel that I have failed in my responsibilities. My children’s time is being wasted. Their development is stopped. I cannot give them the education that they need. It makes me feel really bad about everything.

“Since the services have stopped, life has stopped for my children and myself. My children (2 sons, 16 and 11, 2 daughters, 15 and 14) are not able to go to school anymore. They spend almost all of their time at home… we are too scared to go out.

“I ask the government of Australia to evacuate us immediately and let our children get education and feel safe until we are resettled in the US.”

Dr Julie Stone, AM, FRANZCP, retired infant, child & family Psychiatrist
“The scientific evidence is incontrovertible – adverse childhood events (ACEs) have dire consequences, in childhood and adult life.

“Lack of secure housing, parental distress and/or physical and mental illness, inadequate family resources, violence and danger in the environment, inability or hesitation to enrol children in kindergarten or school, poverty and all that follows, are very damaging for young children.

“We must not turn a blind eye to the plight of these men and their dependents. The time to act is now.”

Sister Jane Keogh, long-time friend and supporter of the refugees in PNG through the Brigidine Sisters will hold a night vigil outside Parliament during February and March
“Imagine seeing someone you first knew as young and healthy and now he is paranoid and hasn’t washed in weeks. And getting panicked texts saying: ‘My children are crying, they haven’t eaten for two days’.

“The most repeated message I get is: ‘Please save me. I am so tired. I cannot do this any more’.  Some cannot speak any more and don’t leave their rooms, emaciated and broken in mind as well as body.”

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