Catholic bishops call for ‘speedy processing’ of status for West Papuan refugees

According to the UNHCR, Papua New Guinea currently hosts about 11,800 asylum seekers and refugees

The Catholic bishops of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands on Monday, June 20, called on authorities for the “speedy processing” of status, documents, and land concessions for West Papuan refugees.

In a media briefing, the bishops also called for the “humane treatment” of illegal migrant workforce, especially in the logging industry, fisheries, and retail trade.

The Church leaders also called for a “new medevac pathway” for asylum seekers and refugees who have chronic health issues.

In a statement during the annual observance of United Nations World Refugee Day on Monday, the bishops noted that Papua New Guinea “is heavily affected by the emergency of people forced by negative circumstances to abandon their places of origin.”

The bishops said an estimated 12,000 West Papuan refugees live in the National Capital District in the Western province and Sandaun province while 104 individuals, some now with families, of the more than 1,000 transferred by Australia to Manus Island in 2013, still remain in Port Moresby.

“Internally displaced people keep growing in number due to tribal fights, sorcery related violence, natural calamities, (and) climate change,” read a note to the media from Father Giogio Licini, general secretary of the bishops’ conference.

The priest said that “prolonged refugee processing, lack of government-issued identity documentation and, importantly, land concessions” are among the challenges being faced by displaced people.

He said that some of those temporarily settled in Port Moresby have been evicted and transferred already several times.

“This is a painful story, at least as painful as taking children out of school, going without food for days and sleeping in the cold in parks,” said the Italian priest, adding that there is a “particular and extreme concern” for the elderly, many of whom are sick.

“Refugees, IDPs, migrant workers and victims of human trafficking, they all need to be protected and supported by the government and those in a position of making decisions for the people,” said Father Licini.

According to the UNHCR, Papua New Guinea currently hosts about 11,800 asylum seekers and refugees.

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