As of 23 May 2022, Papua New Guinea had recorded 44,403 COVID-19 cases and 651 deaths. The country’s vaccination rate is very low compared to other countries, with around 2.75 percent of its population having been vaccinated as of 20 April 2022. There appears to be very little data on efforts to assist migrants or asylum seekers in the country, though reports by human rights groups indicate that they have received inadequate medical attention during the pandemic.
According to the Australian Department of Home Affairs, as of 31 December 2021, there were 105 people transferred by the Australia left on Papua New Guinea. Most of these live in Port Moresby and a small number also live in Goroka and come from various different countries including, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Myanmar. Everyon previosly detained at the Bomana Detention Centre have been released. In January 2020, the last 18 men held in the facility were released.
Nonetheless, asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea continue to endure violence and harassment, with little protection from state authorities. In April 2021, Refugee Action Coalition reported that an armed gang had entered the Port Moresby Citi Serviced Apartments complex, where 15 asylum seekers previously detained by the Australian government on Manus island were staying, and assaulted the asylum seekers and took their belongings. Moreover, Human Rights Watch has highlighted that medical facilities in the country are inadequate and that they have proven unable to work with the complex needs of asylum seekers and refugees, in particular, their mental health needs.
In November 2021, the PNG government’s National Control Centre reported that more than 34,000 people had tested positive for COVID-19 and that more than 520 people had died due to the virus. Human Rights Watch said that inadequate testing may mean that the actual number of cases was far higher. In November 2021, only around 770,000 vaccine doses had been delivered to the country, which only suffice to vaccinate 6 percent of the population. Also, around 130,000 vaccines delivered via the COVAX initiative expired before they could be administered. By 3 March 2022, UNDGC reported that less than 5 percent of the population 18 and above had been fully vaccinated and only one third of health workers had been fully vaccinated.
According to UNHCR data, there were 10,781 refugees, 108 asylum seekers, and 14,000 internally displaced persons in the country in 2020. By September 2021, the vaccination rate for the 121 people held in PNG by Australia was 20 percent for first doses, and 11 percent were fully vaccinated.
As regards the country’s prisons, on 30 April 2020, the government announced that it would free 100 low-risk prisoners to decongest prisons. Nonetheless, the country holds around 5,000 prisoners for a total capacity of around 4,000 spaces in prisons with poor sanitation conditions and ventilation. In August 2020, police shot dead 11 inmates after a mass break-out from the Buimo jail. Prisoners were frustrated at the long delays in hearing their court cases due to COVID-19. The prison is intended to hold 436 prisoners, but currently holds more than 1,000.
- Refugee Council Australia, “Offshore Processing Statistics,” 15 May 2022, https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/operation-sovereign-borders-offshore-detention-statistics/2/
- Human Rights Watch, “Papua New Guinea: Events of 2021,” 2022, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/papua-new-guinea
- Faa, M. “Australian Government Urged to Act as PNG’s COVID-19 Outbreak Spreads Among Refugees,” ABC News, 20 October 2021, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-21/png-refugee-family-covid-calls-for-evacuation/100548240
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- UNDGC, “Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, 3 March 2022,” 3 March 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/moldova/daily-press-briefing-office-spokesperson-secretary-general-3-march-2022-moldova-papua
- Doherty, B. “A COVID Incubator: Outbreak in Melbourne Refugee Detention Hotel Grows as Vaccination Rate Lags,” The Guardian, 18 October 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/oct/19/a-covid-incubator-outbreak-in-melbourne-refugee-detention-hotel-grows-as-vaccination-rates-lag
- The New Daily, “Inmates Shot Dead After PNG Jail Break,” 17 August 2020, https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/2020/08/17/papua-new-guinea-11-dead-jail/
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- Shelley, E. “Vaccine Equity for Papua New Guinea – Australia’s Role,” Australian Institute of International Affairs, 20 April 2022, https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/resource/vaccine-equity-for-papua-new-guinea-australias-role/
- Bomana Immigration Centre Sign Outside the Centre, (Loop PNG, Taylor, J. “Last asylum seekers held in Papua New Guinea detention centre released,” The Guardian, 24 January 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/24/last-asylum-seekers-held-in-papua-new-guinea-detention-centre-released)