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Statement from the Manus Refugee Panel Discussion


Port Moresby, 1st November, 2018:


Participants at the Manus Refugee Panel Discussion hosted by the Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Professionals Society today voted overwhelmingly to support the following statement:


Australia has a moral obligation to look after ALL refugees and Asylum Seekers.


Australia MUST take ALL refugees and asylum seekers to Australia by 25 December 2018. This is our Christmas present from Papua New Guineans and Manusians to the refugees and asylum seekers.


Papua New Guineans, including Manusians have said we no longer support the 'chequebook diplomacy'. 


We are deeply concerned that the human rights of the refugees and asylum seekers have been breached as they were forcibly sent to PNG; and Australia's policies has caused us reputational damage. 


We, the participants are speaking on behalf of the women and children on Manus who are the victims of Australia's policies.


The men have suffered enough from prolonged detention. Enough is enough. The time has come to let them go.

Highlighting the plight of the Manus Refugees

  • Abigail Seta


The Catholic Bishops Conference (CBC) together with the Catholic Professionals Society (CPS) hosted a panel discussion on the Manus Refugees on Thursday, 01stNovember 2018. 


Held at the Blessed Peter ToRot conference room at CBC, the program had as its guests and panellists, Benham Satah, a Kurdish Asylum Seeker, Fr Clement Taulam, Kavieng Lorengau Diocese, Hon. Powes Parkop, MP, Governor of NCD, Ms Esther Gaegaming, Deputy Chief Migration Officer, Ms Alithia Barampataz, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR),Mr. Paul Harricknen, Human Rights Lawyer and President of Catholic Professionals Society of PNG. 


Nearly 100 persons attended the event which included an interesting mix of participants from students and teachers; professionals and lay people; government and church personnel. Different organizations and main stream media were there to cover the event. 


The program commenced with a prayer by Bp. Bernard Unabali, Bishop of Bougainville.  Avideo titled Scattered People was shown, it reflected the situation of refugees all over the world. ‘All the same,’ another video on refugees was screened midway through the presentation.


Kurdish refugee, Benham Satah, living in PNG for 5 years as a refugee on Manus island and currently in Port Moresby for the last seven months, spoke on the health problems and medical care the refugees needed. 


“We had several people who lost their minds and no control on their life. Seven have died. All their deaths where preventable by proper mental and physical health which haven’t been provided in the past 5 years,” he said. 


Fr. Clement Taulam, a priest from the Kavieng Lorengau diocese has been in contact with the refugees and has dealt with many issues, pastorally, morally and culturally.


“We now have to deal with the 5th group of refugees”, he said.  “These are the children of the refugees,” he continued.


Ms Alithia Barampataz, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), spoke on the standard human rights and the understanding of what a refugee is.  


Ms Esther Gaegaming, Deputy Chief Migration Officer, then spoke on her role as an immigration officer.


Paul Harricknen, Human Rights Lawyer and President of Catholic Professionals Society of PNG challenged the present arrangement for the refugees.  He spoke on his involvement with the asylum seekers issue on Manus as a lawyer and his concern for the rights of every human person.


“We have always maintained that the detention of the asylum seekers was and is unconstitutional, unlawful and inhumane and to this day, that argument stands,” Mr Harricknen said. He added that this is the stand of the Catholic Church as well. 


Governor of NCD, Hon. Powes Parkop shared his personal conviction on the arrangement of refugees from the perspective of the PNG and Australian government and the possible way forward. He stated that he was trying to understand the government’s decision to accept the arrangement. 


“From the side of the government it’s probably based on compassion in terms of trying to have a process in which people don’t get onto risky boats and get to Australia.  But perhaps there can be a proper way by which they can be processed”. 


“Secondly, it is based on respect for one’s neighbour, Australia.  Being close neighbours and having a history with Australia, the government looked at the bigger picture in terms of a relationship with Australia.  Our Constitution and our own value system accommodates our friend, Australia.” 


“Everyone can agree that we helped Australia but Australia took us for granted and left the problem with us, now it seems like they are washing their hands and they’re saying that it is our problem.  Australia needs a more ethical outcome that is good for everyone. It is good for Australia, it is good for PNG and most importantly, it is good for the asylum seekers,” said Hon. Powes Parkop. 


The question time gave the audience the occasion to clarify and ask questions concerning the many issues surrounding the refuges on Manus and its effect on the social fabric of the people on Manus and Port Moresby.  An outcome of the Panel Discussion was the ‘Christmas present’, statement issued and voted upon by the participants at the Panel Discussion.


The program was coordinated by Fr Ambrose Pereira sdb, Paul Harricknen with the assistance of many at various levels.  Special thanks to Rebecca Lim for her passion to highlight the plight of the refugees. Several participants expressed their thanks for a very inspiring and thought-provoking program.  

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