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Bishops appeal for refugee action in open letter to O’Neill

Licini_Fr Giorgio
Fr Giorgio Licini - 'I appeal to your sense of humanity and the responsibility of your high office'

FR GIORGIO LICINI | General Secretary, Catholic Bishops Conference

WAIGANI - Dear Hon Prime Minister: It is with heavy heart and an intense sense of sadness that I report to you on my recent visits to Lorengau town in Manus Island and to the Pacific International Hospital in Port Moresby.

At the two locations, I had the heartbreaking experience of making contact with an appalling level of desperation in which refugees and asylum seekers live.

I am not referring to the logistic conditions in which the men are kept, which appear to be decent with security, cleanliness, and respect by national and expatriate personnel.

My concern is rather about their fast deteriorating health status, which is making now acts of self-harm and attempted suicide a daily occurrence: three cases only for the two days I was in Manus on 20-22 January.

While travel to Manus and to the detention centers may prove hard to your busy schedule, I warmly invite you to make a quick visit to the [Intensive Care Unit] ward of Pacific International Hospital at 3 Mile.

You will come across well-kept health facilities and extremely kind and professional personnel, but you will also meet about twenty refugees and asylum seekers in a deplorable state of mental health compounded with other ailments affecting their cardiac and respiratory system, kidney failure, fractured bones, etc.

Pacific International Hospital and the PNG health system in general cannot cope with these types of diseases and the men are prevented by their status from seeking independent and autonomous medical attention elsewhere.

Needless to say, Hon Prime Minister, that the foreigners hosted in Manus, at Pacific International Hospital and other locations in Port Moresby have never committed any offense against the people or the State of Papua New Guinea.

Their detention, mainly at the hand of the government of Australia was organised between July 2013 and February 2014 because of their irregular arrival by boat on the shores of that country and as an attempt to deter additional asylum seekers from taking to the sea.

The people of Manus expected the offshore processing of those more than one thousand men taken to their island at Lombrum naval base to last two or three years at the most. Now half of the initial number of those men are still there after six years.

The uncertainty about their future, the rejection of claims and applications for resettlement, the length of the review process has brought to a significant breakdown in their mental health conditions.

From the information I gathered the situation has begun to become alarming by September 2018. Self-harm and attempted suicide, due to depression and hopelessness has now practically become a daily occurrence.

You may see by yourself the men admitted at Pacific International Hospital, and there will be no need for me to supply additional details and information.

I am therefore appealing, Hon Prime Minister, to your sense of humanity and the responsibility of your high office.

As you accepted in 2013 to offer help to the Kevin Rudd government of Australia and the refugees themselves to have their status processed in Papua New Guinea and begin a new life elsewhere, I am now humbly asking you to give a very close deadline to the authorities in Canberra for the removal of all refugees and asylum seekers from our country on the basis of strongly compelling medical and humanitarian reasons.

Having achieved the objective of “stopping the boats” their detention now amounts to cruelty and plain mental and physical torture.

Without this decision, the mentally impaired people will grow by the dozens in the next few weeks and months. Who is going to care for them?

They risk outright rejection by any third country. They will be unproductive and a burden to Australia if that government is eventually forced to take them in. It is unthinkable that they are treated in Papua New Guinea and spend the rest of their lives here in total abjection and poverty.

Dear Prime Minister, the photos I attach to this letter are indeed distressing and painting a picture of the country that may easily appear of complicity, injustice and irresponsibility. The people of Papua New Guinea, your people, are of a completely different stock and do not deserve this bad international publicity.

I am sure that everybody will appreciate you demanding from the Prime Minister of Australia that any offshore processing in Papua New Guinea is ended within sixty days at the most, and these men immediately receive proper medical treatment in Australia while waiting for the final decision on their future in any safe country.

Thank you very much and may God bless all your efforts!

Most cordially,


General Secretary, Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands


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Peter H Joseph

If these refugees are seeking protection, why didn't they apply to stay in PNG just like refugees from Indonesia?
A lot of Indonesian refugees are now successfully educated and enjoying every benefits in this country regardless of setbacks which Papua New Guineans are experiencing as well.

In saying that, PNG is safe and there are lots of opportunities here than their country of origin unless they have ulterior motives.

Philip Fitzpatrick

As an interesting aside Philip both Kevin Rudd, who instigated the present system of dealing with asylum seekers arriving by boat, and Scott Morrison, who refined the cruelty involved and presided over the system for many years, are both committed Christians of the most zealous kind.

Philip Kai Morre

The refugees at Manus detention centre or either at Pacific International Hospital are priceless human beings who needed total health care and support.

The refugees need psychological or emotional support which is equivalent to physical health care. We are not at war with their countries of origin so we don't have to threat those refugees like prisoners in German concentration camp during the second world war. Ignorance is a violation against human rights.

We have to show love and caring towards those people who needed help and emotionally broken. We need to show unconditional love and comfort those who needed comfort listen to their grievances, feel the sufferings and pain they have gone through and experience their daily life.

As Christians we should be motivated in caring for others who are marginalized and helpless which is a symbolic of moral conscience and expression of agape love. As Christians we have to feel pride of assisting someone in desperate need.

Love of fellow human beings despite creed, colour and nationally is universally affirmed in the teaching of Christianity and as well as other cultures. It is important to learn from the Judea - Christian traditions, values and life stories from the prophets and Jesus himself in the bible that enriched us to be more affirm. A classical example is the gospel of good Samaritan.

The refugees at Manus are like prisoners who are suffering from extreme deprivation, depression, pain, trauma, and grief and yet we are still adding more problems that their inner strength is weak to carry on another day. The prime ministers of both PNG and Australia need to visit Manus and Pacific International Hospital and make their assessment.

William Dunlop

And what about the plight of PNG citizens in this most alarming and deplorable state of the health services. Or rather complete lack off.

Garry Roche

It is good that the Catholic bishops are speaking up about the plight of the refugees. I support Fr Giorgio's appeal.

Perhaps it would also be worthwhile to try and get all the churches to add their voices to this appeal.

If Anglican, Lutheran, United Church, and Seventh Day Adventists all joined in speaking up it may make the appeal more effective.

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