Fri. Nov 18th, 2022

Refugee advocates have called for the Australian government to bring all refugees and asylum seekers still in Papua New Guinea home amid the spiralling coronavirus outbreak there.

  • Six refugees and asylum seekers in PNG have tested positive to coronavirus
  • Refugee advocates say Australia has a duty of care to them
  • The Australian government provides asylum seekers and refugees in PNG with assistance including housing and medical care

Ninety refugees and 40 asylum seekers remain in PNG’s capital Port Moresby under the Australian government’s Regional Resettlement Arrangement following the closure of the Manus Island detention centre in 2019.
Australia’s closest neighbour is in the grip of a worsening COVID-19 crisis, with more than 1,400 active cases.
Six refugees and asylum seekers have tested positive to coronavirus in the past two weeks.
One of the refugees, who asked to remain anonymous, said he tested positive about two weeks ago after seeking medical assistance for stomach pain and he had been isolating in his accommodation since.
The refugee, who has been waiting for two years to find out whether he can be resettled in the US, says five others have also tested positive in that time. 
While he was receiving daily visits from health workers in full PPE, the infection control procedures and protocols at the medical centre where the refugees were given treatment were inadequate, he said.
He said he was worried about spreading the virus and being unfairly blamed by the local people.  
“It is it scary because [people in PNG] they don’t know about refugees, they don’t know how long we have been here,” he said.
“The scary in part is they blame expats for bringing COVID here.”
PNG Prime Minister James Marape says the pandemic is “clogging up” the country’s health system.(Supplied: Ekarvilla Keapu/ PNG Prime Minister Photographer
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said the other five who had tested positive were in isolation in a hotel. 
Mr Rintoul said Australia could provide enough vaccine for the entire PNG population.
“But the Australian government has a particular duty of care to the refugees they have kept for eight years and are still keeping in Papua New Guinea, Mr Rintoul said.
He said the remaining refugees and asylum seekers were being kept in hotels around Port Moresby.
“They should be urgently evacuated to Australia,” he said.  
A statement from PNG’s chief migration officer, Stanis Hulahau, said the Australian government had arranged a private hospital to carry out testing on all 130 men, and 58 tests were done last week.
Mr Hulahau said those who tested positive would be relocated to a separate accommodation site for isolation and recovery.
He said “non-refugees” were under the immigration department’s supervision while refugees were managed by an external contractor while awaiting resettlement.
The COVID-19 test on refugees and non-refugees does not indicate that they are the main transmitters. However, it teaches us a lesson to get tested and protect our loved-ones from the virus,” he said.
Port Moresby residents line up to be tested for coronavirus at the Pacific International Hospital.(Supplied
Barri Phatarfod, from Doctors 4 Refugees, said the Australian government should take responsibility for all the refugees and asylum seekers and bring them back to Australia. 
She said they were clearly under Australia’s care.
“These are people that we have put there and, no matter how much fancy wording we can do with it saying whose responsibility they are, the fact is that their housing is paid for by Australia. Their health care is paid for, their food, the security, everything is all paid for by Australia,” Dr Phatarfod said. 
“[PNG is] an impoverished country, with highly stressed, stretched resources, our nearest neighbour, and we can’t be adding problems onto them just to push a political agenda,” she added.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison today announced Australia would send 8,000 doses from its COVID-19 vaccine supply to PNG next week and it was asking AstraZeneca and European authorities to divert another 1 million doses to the country.
The Department of Home Affairs said the government was supporting PNG to deliver health care to transferees by contracting specialist health services. 
“The Pacific International Hospital is equipped to manage COVID-19 cases,” it said in a statement. 
“Service providers have reinforced COVID-19 hygiene and etiquette protocols and masks and other supplies have been issued to the cohort,” it added.