The Australian Government's decision to end its regional processing of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea by the end of the year has been met by mixed reactions.
The international community, more generally, has accused Australia of abandoning refugees in Papua New Guinea as the Morrison government prepares to end offshore processing agreements with the country.
Thedecision has been welcomed by both refugee advocates and those opposed to asylum seekers arriving by boat, the former arguing that the policy should end and that PNG is simply not capable of resettling refugees and that this has been proven over the past eight years.
The program will end on December 31 under an agreement by the Australian and PNG governments.
Australia says it will help people "voluntarily transfer" to Nauru before the PNG government assumes sole responsibility for those who remain in the country from January.
Amnesty International Australia has labelled the end to the offshore processing in PNG a step in the right direction. However, it wants the Australian government to commit to resettling all refugees and asylum seekers detained in PNG and on Nauru by accepting New Zealand's long-standing offer to take them.
The PNG government has said that it will support those refugees awaiting transfer to a third country. This policy position should be welcomed.
Australia's offshore detention policy has come at an enormous cost to the taxpayer; Australia's offshore detention facilities in both Papua New Guinea and Nauru have cost tens of billions of dollars. The Australian Government will spend nearly $812m on its offshore immigration processing system in the next financial year – just under $3.4m for each of the 239 people now held on Nauru or in PNG.
The home affairs portfolio budget papers forecast $811.8 million to be spent on offshore detention in the next financial year, before dropping to a little over $300 million annually the following year.
Canstruct, a Brisbane company whose chief executive is a Liberal party donor, has been paid more than $1.4bn over five years to run the offshore processing regime on Nauru, with seven consecutive amendments increasing its contract from $8million to $1.4 billion.
While Australia is set to end its offshore processing facilities in Papua New Guinea by the end of 2021, Australia's offshore detention facilities in Nauru will remain operational, at a significant cost to the Australian taxpayer.
New Zealand has provided Australia with a longstanding offer to resettle 150 refugees per year from Australia's offshore detention system. Australia has consistently refused this offer, to the detriment of refugees caught up in the offshore processing regime as well as the Australian taxpayer.
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