AUSTRALIA has welcomed a pledge by Papua New Guinea to begin resettling refugees from an Australian immigration detention centre, despite questions about how their safety would be guaranteed in one of the region's most dangerous countries.
PNG, which Australia says suffers from a "general atmosphere of lawlessness", has not resettled anyone in the three years it has hosted the centre and it says those who are resettled will face waits of up to eight years before obtaining citizenship.
Asylum seekers are a hot political issue in Australia and successive governments have vowed to stop them reaching the mainland, sending those intercepted to camps on Manus Island in PNG and Nauru.
However, Australia has struggled to find a permanent solution. A deal struck with Cambodia last year to relocate refugees there has struggled to get off the ground and many settled in Nauru have reported assaults amid reports of systemic child abuse.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (pictured) on Friday praised PNG for the decision to begin moving those found to be genuine refugees into the community.
PNG has yet to resettle anyone from the centre, where an Iranian asylum seeker died during a riot in early 2014. An Australian senate inquiry placed responsibility for the death on the Australian government.
"The PNG government has shown with this announcement its commitment to permit those found to be refugees to get on with their lives and have a fresh start in this dynamic nation with a growing economy," Dutton said in a statement.
PNG struggles with endemic violence and poverty. On its travel advice website, the Australian government urges citizens to "exercise a high degree of caution" there because of "high levels of serious crime".
Carjacking, gang rape and a "general atmosphere of lawlessness" should all be taken into consideration before choosing to travel to the South Pacific island nation, the website says.