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Asylum seekers in Asia

Australia offers $25,000 to Rohingya refugees willing to return to Myanmar

The Australian and PNG governments have vowed the Manus detention centre will be completely shut down by October 31

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 September, 2017, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 1:22pm

Australia is promising thousands of dollars to Rohingya refugees who agree to return to Myanmar, a country that has been accused of ethnic cleansing against the Muslim minority.

Asylum seekers in the Australian-run detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, have been pressured by officials to return to their home countries, even if they face violence.

Papua New Guinea’s supreme court last year ruled the centre for around 800 people breached human rights, was illegal and must close.

Australia has since ratcheted up efforts to clear the centre, offering up to AUD$25,000 (US$19,900) to refugees agreeing to go home.

Returning Rohingya to their country could put their lives at risk. Myanmar does not recognise the ethnic minority and has conducted military operations in Rohingya villages that the United Nations’ top human rights official branded “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Close to 400,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, many with bullet wounds and stories of mass killings, as their villages burn.

The Guardian understands up to seven Rohingya may be facing return from Manus Island and spoke to two refugees in PNG who said they were going back.

Yahya Tabani, a 32-year-old Rohingya man said he had been promised A$25,000 by the Australian Border Force. He had not yet received any money and does not have a bank account into which it can be paid.

“I have no right to get citizenship and can’t go to school. I didn’t get any basic rights. Immigration [the Australian Immigration Department] said I have to live in PNG or go home.”

He said he had been attacked by locals in PNG, who he claims killed another detainee, an Iranian man. They were looking for money, he said.

Another Rohingya refugee, currently held in Port Moresby ahead of a slated return to Myanmar, spoke to The Guardian on condition of anonymity for fear of recriminations against himself and his family.

“I am going back because my family are being persecuted by the Myanmar government. My family are in a violent place. I need to save them and look after them.”

The Australian and PNG governments have vowed the Manus detention centre will be completely shut down by October 31. Officials have been withdrawing basic services in different sections to force people out.

“It would be unthinkable to send any Rohingya back to Myanmar – in the midst of the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign against them,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Sending them home right now would be a death sentence.”

The Obama administration agreed to consider resettling in the US up 1,250 men, woman and children refugees sent by Australia to Manus Island and Nauru. But Donald Trump described the agreement as a “dumb deal” and in his first phone call with the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, asked: “Why have you not let them into your society? ... Maybe you should let them out of prison.”

On the offshore detention islands, faith in the American agreement is fading. The US is not obliged to take a single refugee under the deal, only to consider them for resettlement, and 10 months after the deal was struck, no one has been accepted to go to the US.

In Canberra the Australian government has resolutely maintained no one detained on Manus or Nauru will ever be resettled in Australia. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection referred questions to the government of Papua New Guinea.