Australia’s Papua New Guinea based Manus Island Refugee processing centre should be closed down, says the Pacific Island nation’s peak Catholic body in an appeal to the Australian government.
PNG’s Catholic Bishops Conference (CBC) said it was appalled to hear of the recent disturbance at the centre, resulting in death and injury.
It was also concerned over the Australian government’s “rhetoric of a righteous campaign” against people smuggling at the expense of PNG’s reputation, the CBC said in a statement.
“We were concerned that the rhetoric of a righteous campaign against people smugglers actually seemed to be more a question of political convenience,” the church assembly said.
“Detaining people against their will in PNG, even if it works as a deterrent, is not a just solution worthy of a great nation otherwise proud of its human rights record.
“It clearly places an intolerable strain on the capacity of PNG to manage and might lead to even more deaths, injury and trauma. Close the centre and manage the problem in Australia.”
A riot at the centre on February 17 left Iranian man Reza Berati dead and 62 other asylum seekers injured.
After meeting with the PNG Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato and Attorney-General Kerenga Kua over the weekend, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announced both countries had agreed to monthly ministerial forums on resettlement arrangements, aimed at denying asylum seekers entry into Australia.
The Abbott government last week announced details of an independent review into the violence at the PNG detention centre, to be headed by the former secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department Robert Cornall.
Asked if the government was any closer to knowing what happened the night of the violence, Mr Morrison said: “We are getting a clearer picture”.
But the minister said he did not know who killed Mr Berati, nor who fired guns during the disturbance.
A PNG judge, David Cannings, has also launched an inquiry into whether asylum seekers are being afforded their rights under the country’s constitution.
The PNG CBC was also offended that settlement in PNG was being presented in a negative light so as to act as a deterrent to asylum seekers, and concerned over a recent highly critic report from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on conditions at the Manus Island centre.
“Arrangements for the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre do not meet international protection standards and the present situation on Manus is likely to lead to increased levels of psychosocial harm,” the CBC statement said.
“This unheeded warning now seems to be proven all too true.
“We repeat again our respectful encouragement to Australia to find a more humane solution to people seeking asylum in their country. Asylum seekers are human beings who deserve respect and recognition of their dignity.”
About 27 per cent of PNG’s estimated 7 million people are Catholic.
Director of PNG’s Institute of National Affairs, Paul Barker, says the government of Peter O’Neill is unlikely to be moved by the PNG CBC’s plea.
“The CBC has been addressing a range of controversial commitments by the PNG government with human rights implications, including the mandatory death penalty for various offences and the Manus asylum deal,” he told AAP.
“The Government certainly is aware of their concerns but doesn’t necessarily concede to their recommendations.”