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Update from our national RAR committee

Please see below an update from National RAR, which offers a detailed insight into the situation facing refugees and asylum seekers in PNG, together with a human rights update.
11 May 2020
Hello to all RAR Members and Supporters – Welcome to this RAR Update.

I understand many members have a great interest in the situation of refugees detained offshore. We start with an edited version of an April 30 report from Port Moresby by Jason Siwat from Caritas PNG.
Ex-Manus Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Port Moresby

227 persons remain in PNG from the closed Manus Regional Processing Centre. The Government of PNG has given 160 refugee status by while 67 are non-refugees. These 227 men are at different stages on different settlement pathways. Some are being assisted by international agencies, others by Australian groups such as AdsUp Australia (working on Canadian settlement) and the Independent Doctors Network (seeking heath care in Australia).
The Australian government contracts service providers for general support to the men, but the specific and specialist needs of individuals remain. Most live in Port Moresby, housed in several hotels and apartments: one is in Bomana prison. Three are still in Manus.


The coronavirus situation and the government-declared state of emergency (SOE) hugely impacted on the wellbeing of the men and the families four have, particularly for the sick and vulnerable. They have heightened stress and anxiety, especially because most processes became slower and made less progress. This is compounded by the movement restrictions, and the news from home. Nonetheless we continued to reach them as best as we could both in person and by phone.

We supplied hand sanitizers to the city accommodation, and to Bomana prison where one refugee is kept. We have also disseminated information on COVID19 prevention via WhatsApp. We have ordered 240 pieces of reusable masks, which will be distributed from next week.

Though the men’s movements have been restricted, many still access health attention at the Pacific International Hospital, the contracted medical provider. The movement restriction has been lifted temporarily and things are slowly returning to normal.

There was only one reported incident during the SOE period. One man, who is known to have serious mental illness, attempted to attack security guards when they prevented him from leaving the hotel he is staying in.

We support the families of four refugees by providing monthly food vouchers to supplement the allowance they receive from the Australian government. Despite the coronavirus affecting our funding for this, we will try to continue it. Two of the refugee fathers have been accepted for US resettlement, the other two not. We continue to encourage them to take the opportunity to go to the States and settle down and later bring their family members to reunite. We assisted one of the two fathers rejected by the US with startup capital when he started a small business, in partnership with a local businessman, which is now venturing into masks production.


We maintain our advocacy for the men with domestic and international stakeholders. We have written letters to PNG Immigration and the PNG Prime Minister urging regional solutions be explored. We have voiced concerns on several pertinent issues in the media and in other fora. We press the local service providers to ensure adequate support is available.

We engage with the UNHCR, IOM and Independent Doctors Network, among others, plus a good number of individuals in Australia who are working together for these men. Our sharing of information and delivering information to the men has helped on many fronts: we are the only independent source on the ground who work to promote their dignity and wellbeing.


We have been supporting refugees applying for third country resettlement by liaising with UNHCR Canberra office, AdsUp Australia, IOM, PNG Immigration, Independent Doctors Network and several individuals working on this project. Mainly we collect and pass on information from the refugees and message information and updates from UNHCR and others to the refugees and asylum seekers. As needed, we assist in soliciting documents, photos, signatures and contact details from the refugees for AdsUp Australia, which completes Canada refugee applications on their behalf. For people with serious illnesses, we assist in retrieving medical files and sending them to Australia, previously for Medevac and now to the Independent Doctors Network.


Four refugees are in different stages of legal proceedings: two are convicted prisoners, and two are in court processes. Of them, three are in Manus Island, separated from the rest of their friends who are in Port Moresby, while one is being held at the Bomana prison. We barely know about the situations of those in Manus, except for occasional phone calls we have with them, or communications from second party sources. One of them has a chronic kidney issue, while the other two are suffering from severe stress and anxiety, with deteriorating ability to care for their wellbeing. We supplied toiletries to the refugee in Bomana prison.

We have also supported a migrant from Bangladesh whose case is now ongoing at the Supreme Court of PNG. We housed him for two weeks after he was temporarily released following a favourable National Court decision on 16th April 2020.


We know nine men suffer from serious medical and mental illnesses. Some of their conditions are chronic, compounded by the prolonged detention and various stressful experiences that they have gone through. We informed the UNHCR and the Independent Doctors Network about the nine: we are trying to have some or all of them transferred to Australia to receive proper health care.

At least three of these men are in a serious state of mental instability. One was supposed to fly to the US, but was refused because of his mental condition. We tried to have one transferred to Australia on medical grounds, but made little progress despite his medical files being sent to Australia. He is suffering from serious mental health conditions along with issues in his upper body. He is at risk of self-harm.

Generally, most of these men suffer from varying levels of stress, anxiety and other lifestyle diseases that require specialist medical attention outside of PNG. Our one-on-one visits to some of them help them go through this very difficult time of their lives.


Through seven long years, the plight of the ex-Manus refugees and non-refugees has seen little to no improvements. 320 of them have left for the US and a few to other countries, a handful have found jobs in Port Moresby, and one has settled into village life on Manus Island. But many of those who are left in PNG continue to suffer from ongoing detention and serious health problems, particularly the non-refugees. The Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, through Caritas PNG, has been providing much needed hope and care to those devastated by this Australian offshore policy. We will continue to act with faith for justice and dignity so that they too can one day enjoy the fullness of life that every human person deserves.

Human Rights Update

Internationally, human rights are enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and later United Nations declarations. But Australia has no constitutionally entrenched bill of rights or a national human rights act
The National RAR conference in Wodonga, April 2018, endorsed “The Wodonga Declaration”. Its specific concern was that the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees were not being respected by the Australian Government:
  • There is an urgent need for an Australian Charter of Human Rights which recognises that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
  • We call for the Parliament of Australia to meet, protect and uphold our legal and moral obligations under International Human Rights Conventions and laws. We commit to work together as one until this is achieved.
  • We also suggest a timeline and process and provide the background to the Declaration.
Since then, Marie Sellstrom, the previous National RAR president, has headed our lobbying and advocacy effort with political parties and non-government organisations. Successful forums have been run by some RAR groups around the country in an effort to raise awareness in the general population. An ‘toolkit’ is available for groups who want to run an event in their community.
The RAR Human Rights Subcommittee was formed early 2020. It has met twice with reps from Victoria and Queensland and now representatives from Pottsville in NSW have joined.  Being concerned about Australia’s failings in human rights is sufficient if you would like to join us. We can help you with building up your knowledge. Just email  to get started.
RAR Australia is one of the NGOs who have joined with The Human Rights Law Centre in a campaign for Charter of Human Rights. OR The success of this campaign depends on grassroots involvement which RAR groups are ideal for  so please sign up if you haven’t done so already .
(Thanks to Marie Bonne, Bendigo RAR, for providing the material for this item)

Jonathan Strauss
Rural Australians for Refugees Australia
Phone: 0437 790 306
Rural Australians for Refugees on Twitter and Facebook.
RAR is a member of the Australian Refugee Action Network
Our mailing address is:


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