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Offshore processing of PNG asylum seekers to end

PNG Asylum seekers Manus
File photo from Manus Island. Photo: Hass Hassaballa/AP

The Australian federal government is ending offshore processing in Papua New Guinea for asylum seekers detained after trying to reach Australia by boat.

The arrangement was set up in 2013 under the then-Labour government and authorised regional processing in PNG.

Under a timeline announced today, processing in PNG will permanently end on 31 December.

As of July this year, there were 124 asylum seekers in PNG.

From January, PNG will have responsibility for those who remain, the Australian and PNG governments said in a joint statement.

This means any asylum seekers still in PNG will be offered a pathway to permanent migration, including citizenship.

PNG will also provide support to those temporarily in the country awaiting transfer to a third country.

Prior to the December deadline, Australia will offer asylum seekers in PNG “voluntary transfer” to its offshore processing centre on the Pacific island of Nauru.

“This government’s strong border protection policies – including a commitment to regional processing – have not changed,” Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.

“Anyone who attempts to enter Australia illegally by boat will be returned, or sent to Nauru.”

Andrews said PNG and Nauru had been longstanding partners in the fight against people smuggling.

“I thank them for their close cooperation and support,” she said.

The federal government in September signed a new agreement with Nauru, which began offshore processing in 2012, to continue that arrangement.

There are about 107 detainees in Nauru.

Between 2008 and 2013, more than 50,000 people arrived in Australia on more than 820 boats and at least 1,200 died at sea, the government said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Government cannot just wash its hands of the people it exiled to Papua New Guinea, the Greens say.

“Today is a day to remember the people who died as a result of being illegally exiled to Papua New Guinea, and the countless other lives that were destroyed,” Greens Immigration spokesperson Senator Nick McKim said.

“People who sought asylum in Australia remain Australia’s responsibility under international law, and no amount of bureaucratic maneuvering can change that fact.

“Offshore detention has been a humanitarian calamity at every level, and has cost Australia tens of billions of dollars.

“While offshore detention in Papua New Guinea will end, perhaps its most shameful legacy is the adoption of the same brutal policies and rhetoric in so many other countries around the world.”

“The people remaining in Papua New Guinea should be brought immediately to Australia and allowed to resettle here.” said Senator McKim.

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