MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said on Thursday that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Papua territory has severely damaged the archipelago’s reputation and that the camp would have to close eventually.
Australia’s coalition government led by the conservative Liberal Party came to power in 2013 on a campaign to “Stop the Boats”, adopting tough measures as a deterrent to asylum seekers.
Everyone who arrives by boat is detained and sent to the tiny island of Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. The government also conducts tow-backs, or turning a boat back to its origin.
O’Neill also said that the camp on Manus Island would have to close eventually and that the country did not have the resources to resettle detainees, but that the decision rested with Australia.
Responding to a question about whether the detention facilities had hurt PNG’s reputation, O’Neill said: “It has done a lot more damage for Papua New Guinea than anything else.
“When we saw women and children dying at sea, we stepped up our offer to help, and that’s what we have done… At some stage, of course, we need to close the centre. These people cannot remain in Manus forever… But it is entirely up to the Australian government.”
Australia’s policy to house asylum seekers offshore has attracted international criticism from human rights groups including the United Nations.
While the number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is small compared with those arriving in Europe, border security has long been a hot political issue.
Australia’s High Court last month rejected a legal challenge to the country’s right to deport 267 refugee children and their families brought to Australia from Nauru for medical treatment.
The detention and likely deportation back to Nauru of a baby girl known as Asha, born in Australia to Nepalese parents, sparked an outpouring of support that could prove a watershed in public opinion against Australia’s harsh policies.