Australia says talks on fate of PNG asylum seekers could take months

The fate of nearly 900 men held in an Australian detention centre in Papua New Guinea is unlikely to be determined for several months, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on Monday. That timetable could put the politically sensitive decision beyond a federal election on July 2, although Australia’s tough immigration policy is expected to be a feature of one of the longest poll campaigns in the country’s history. The PNG government said two weeks ago it planned to close the detention camp on Manus Island after the Pacific island nation’s Supreme Court ruled it was unlawful, a decision that threatens to undermine Australia’s closed door asylum policy.

We will have what I think will be detailed and long-run discussions with Papua New Guinea.

Peter Dutton

Under Australia’s hard-line immigration policy, asylum seekers intercepted trying to reach the country by boat after paying people smugglers are sent for processing to a camp in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or to Nauru. In an attempt to dissuade others from making the risky journey by boat, they are never eligible for resettlement in Australia even if deemed to be genuine asylum seekers. Mr Dutton said he made it clear in initial discussions with PNG that the men, from countries including Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, would not be settled in Australia.