PNG: Solution or Failure?
On 19 July 2013, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared a dramatic change to the nation’s asylum seeker policy. Under the changes, “asylum seekers who come here by boat will never be settled in Australia”. Instead, they will be processed and resettled in Papua New Guinea, even if they are found to be genuine refugees. The aim of the new policy is to stop the numerous fatalities that occur at sea, mainly due to the overcrowding and unseaworthiness of the boats, and to undermine the business model of people smuggling.
But let’s go back to why asylum seekers come here in the first place. Facing oppression and persecution in their countries, these people decide to get on a boat to the possibility of a better life. For many, the dangers of sea are better than their current environment.
Compared to most other nations, Australia receives relatively few refugees – there are 11 for every 10,000 people. And by not catering for them, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre spokeswoman Jana Favero believes that Australia is now “outsourcing their obligations”. Greens leader Christine Milne said it was “absolutely immoral for a rich nation to dump thousands of vulnerable people into an impoverished country”.
Papua New Guinea as a country is still underdeveloped. Its GDP per capita is 2,797, placing it 142nd out of 187 countries. The average life expectancy is 56, with the leading cause of death being pneumonia. The murder rate of Papua New Guinea is 13 times that of Australia.
It also boasts a poor human rights record. The Constitution states the right to vote freely, but this is compromised by the regular violence that occurs during the elections. Public demonstrations require 14 days’ notice as well as police approval which is usually never granted. Two thirds of women have experienced domestic violence and half have experienced rape. In February, a woman was stripped, tortured, doused in petrol and burnt to death by villagers in the highlands after being branded as a witch. Recognition of the 800 different tribes is poor and the contrast in language, tradition and customs often result in inter-tribal feuds.
So are we really fulfilling our moral obligations? Would being resettled in another third world country with serious social issues be noticeably better for asylum seekers? Many would think not. On one side, if someone is prepared to risk their life to come here, then shouldn’t we accept them? But on the other side, unnecessary lives could be lost and they would be taken advantage of by people smugglers. However we deal with this difficult issue, we must always act with social justice – and the PNG solution doesn’t seem to be very socially just.
Date accessed: 27/08/13 10:30 p.m.