Papua New Guinea expects to start resettling refugees detained in Australia’s offshore processing centre on Manus Island as early as May.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been reassured by his PNG counterpart the resettlement process “is in train” and should begin in May or June once approved by that country’s parliament.
Mr Abbott used a high-level meeting in Port Moresby to thank Peter O’Neill for “staying the course” on supporting refugee resettlement, even though the policy had caused problems for the PNG prime minister.
“I fully appreciate that this whole resettlement issue is a difficult one for PNG, I absolutely accept that,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Port Moresby on Friday.
“I am grateful that the course will be stayed because a very important element in stopping the boats is rigorous offshore processing.”
Mr O’Neill said PNG remained committed to the policy because it had helped save lives by stopping the flow of asylum seeker boats to Australia.
But the policy of resettling refugees was unprecedented, and PNG officials were doing their best to work quickly to establish the legal structure needed to begin that process.
Asylum seekers would continue to have their claims assessed at Manus Island, even as PNG’s parliament considered the policy in May.
Mr O’Neill said those found not to be refugees would soon be sent home.
“Those who are wanting to be resettled, will be resettled under our legislative structure,” he said.
But he stressed his country could not resettle all people found to be genuine refugees, and called on other Pacific nations to assist with the task.
“We expect everybody to carry the same burden as we do,” he said.
Mr Abbott said he accepted it would be hard for PNG to accept all refugees from Manus Island, and assured Mr O’Neil Australia was discussing the issue with other nations.