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PNG High Commissioner to Australia labels borders as 'porous'
The Australian Opposition has argued that the PNG solution put forward by the Australian Government has opened up a new route for exploitation by people smugglers.

Jim Middleton speaks with Charles Lepani, Papua New Guinea's High Commissioner to Australia.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Along with the economy, the issue of asylum seekers is dominating debate in the Australian election campaign.

Australia's plan to send new arrivals to Papua New Guinea is supposed to stop asylum seekers.

But the opposition is arguing that the arrival of a pair of Somalis from PNG, via the Torres Strait, indicates a possible new route for exploitation by people smugglers.

Charles Lepani is Papua New Guinea's high commissioner to Australia.

High Commissioner, good to be talking to you.


JIM MIDDLETON: What do you say to the argument from the Australian Opposition that the arrival of the Somali asylum seekers across the Torres Strait means a new people smuggling corridor has been opened up?

CHARLES LEPANI: It's a risk for a diplomat from a foreign country to comment on Australian politics, Jim, but both sides of politics are good to Papua New Guinea, they're great friends, so I feel on that note that I can make my personal views, it's not the views of the PNG government, that, yes, the border is porous and both governments know that. The Australians know that, the Papua New Guinean government knows that. There have been crossings not only of illegal immigrants but there were…

JIM MIDDLETON: In fact the Torres Strait Treaty makes it specific that local inhabitants are allowed to cross the waters between Australia and Papua New Guinea without visas, without passports.

CHARLES LEPANI: Yes, those who have cultural dealings, just like border with Indonesia, Papua New Guineans cross both sides. So it's a porous border, that's the issue, both governments recognise that. And also the I don't know whether two Somalis will count as a wave of people crossing, but there were issues of crime and drug dealing and gun running in those states.

JIM MIDDLETON: What about these two, this handful that have turned up, turn out to be the vanguard, as it were. And given the porous nature, as you acknowledged of the border, why wouldn't many more then follow their example?

CHARLES LEPANI: Across the border from Indonesia side to Papua New Guinea side, we do have customs at the border, particularly in the northern side of the country. And there is a facility that's been set up in the Daru area to monitor these movements. But I don't think at this stage we could say that the border crossings will be fully protected.

JIM MIDDLETON: Let's talk about what Kevin Rudd and Peter O'Neill are calling the regional resettlement scheme. What efforts is PNG making at the moment to deal with the logistics of resettling people? How quickly do you think you will actually be able to resettle people who are taken to Manus, for example?

CHARLES LEPANI: I think resettlement will be taking place as the facilities are being improved, the existing temporary one as well as the permanent one. So I gather the contractor, major contractor, an Australian company has been awarded, but overall, as both sides know, that it will take time.

JIM MIDDLETON: How far advanced are arrangements in PNG by the PNG authorities to make arrangements for those people who end up on Manus Island and are found to be genuine refugees, to be resettled in PNG?

CHARLES LEPANI: We are talking, I believe there are discussions with the United Nations Refugee Commissioner's people in Australia as well as Australian immigration for some technical assistance to our immigration officials, because we are administering the facility, Papua New Guinea, under its Papua New Guinean laws. There is a move to pass legislation to amend the Immigration Act, I think, to allow for a new visa category for these people to be resettled in Papua New Guinea.

JIM MIDDLETON: So do you think these new arrangements will be in place within weeks or will it take months to implement, do you think?

CHARLES LEPANI: When we signed the Refugee Convention, we had conditions attaching to that and UN accepted it, and they were that we cannot provide employment, health, education, that is above our people.

Now, there's a lot of push, including what was signed in the agreement, that we can draw those conditions. Australia requests, that's the wording in the agreement, requests Papua New Guinea to do all it can to withdraw these conditions so that asylum seekers can be resettled.

JIM MIDDLETON: High Commissioner, thank you very much indeed.

CHARLES LEPANI: Thank you, thank you, appreciate it.
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