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Refugee Action Collective Fact Sheet



On 19 July 2013 Kevin Rudd announced his so-called ‘PNG Solution’. Any asylum seeker arriving by boat after that day would be processed offshore on either Nauru or Manus Island (PNG) and would never be allowed to settle in Australia. If any were determined to be refugees, they were supposed to be “resettled in Papua New Guinea”.

In reality, around half the people who arrived by boat after 19 July 2013 were never taken to Manus or Nauru but were taken to the mainland, and those found to be refugees have been resettled in Australia on inferior Temporary Protection Visas. But, for those randomly selected and taken to Nauru or Manus, there was no possibility of them ever being resettled in Australia, making Rudd’s policy significantly worse than the offshore policies of both John Howard and Julia Gillard’s before him.

Resettling refugees in desperately poor PNG (or Nauru) was never a viable solution nor seriously attempted. In reality the PNG Solution was a shameful attempt by Labor to win the upcoming 2013 election by agreeing with Tony Abbott’s relentless right-wing attacks on Labor for failing to have 'stopped the boats'. Labor lost the election and the conservatives took over (and extended) the offshore detention policy, establishing Operation Sovereign Borders and turning back asylum boats.

Eight years on no refugees have been successfully settled in PNG. Currently about 233 refugees and asylum seekers still live in very precarious conditions on Nauru and PNG. About 1500 have been brought to Australia for medical reasons since 2013. The vast majority of these people are living in Australia without work rights in ‘community detention’, while others have been dumped on Bridging E Visas which allow them to work, but there is no income or housing support and no Centrelink support if they can’t find work. These visas have to be renewed every few months. About another 88 people are still held in closed detention in hotels such as the Park Hotel in Melbourne or in immigration detention centres like Brisbane’s Immigration and Transit Accommodation (BITA).

The vast majority of the people processed offshore have been found to be refugees but are denied the right to live permanently in Australia. They are meant to find a ‘third country’. This is their punishment for arriving in Australia by boat. But third country resettlement is very unlikely because most developed nations (just like Australia) are hostile to refugees and not about to take refugees who are considered to be Australia’s responsibility.

The only third country to take significant numbers is the USA. This was part of a deal negotiated in November 2016, where Australia agreed to take some refugees the US didn’t want, in exchange for the US taking up to 1250 from Nauru and Manus. Since the USA deal was negotiated only about 968 people have been resettled in the USA. Even If the USA quota was filled, there will still be about 600 left in limbo. New Zealand has offered to take 150 a year but the Australian government rejects this saying it will be a backdoor into Australia.

Australian governments knew that PNG or third country resettlement was never a realistic option. Rather than face up to its obligations under the UN refugee convention, they made life in Australian-run offshore hellholes as brutal as possible in the hope that the people would give up their claim for asylum, and be forced to return home, no matter how dangerous it was. Many people imprisoned in PNG and Nauru have been broken by this cruel system. Thirteen people have died, some through suicide and some because of medical neglect. Self-harm and suicide attempts are at chronic levels and many others have been broken mentally.

On the eighth anniversary of the so-called ‘PNG’ solution about 12 desperate refugees have restarted another hunger strike in the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA). After eight years it’s time to end this cruelty and start welcoming refugees and to provide all (including those still on Manus and Nauru) with permanent protection in Australia.


Eight Years of Cruelty
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