Forty members of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force and Royal PNG Constabulary who are deployed to Vanimo participated in an information session on Wednesday to understand how to identify and refer potential asylum seekers to appropriate agencies while keeping the border secure under current COVID-19 measures.
The training, delivered by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR and Immigration and Citizenship Services Authority, was facilitated by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
This is the third in a series of workshops for the country’s security forces deploying to the border. The last workshop was delivered in Kiunga for 30 members of the PNG Defence Force and Royal PNG Constabulary and 20 members of the Western provincial and North Fly District administrations in October. Future sessions will be delivered in Port Moresby as part of pre-deployment training.
The information sessions are meant to provide officers at the border with the information and support they need to take a differentiated approach to managing and securing the country’s border in line with their international obligations.
Sergeant Tony Bipi, of PNGDF, described his previous experience with asylum seekers, noting they need help, especially with shelter, food and clean water. “The asylum seekers need humanitarian assistance and access to services, and it is our role to refer them to the government and organizations who can help them,” he said
Sergeant John Sagiu, Communications Officer with the Provincial Police, said that it can be difficult for security forces to distinguish who are asylum seekers and who are traditional border crossers, but the workshop has been useful in understanding what their role is, what signs or indicators they need to look for, and how to refer people at the border who are seeking special help to where they can get it.
”Asylum seekers must still follow the laws of PNG like everyone else. But we have laws and regulations in place that align with our participation in the UN convention and protocol on refugees.
“It is the role of Immigration to identify and determine the status of anyone entering the country who claims to be seeking refuge from their country,” said Margaret Gitai, General Manager of Refugee Branch – Borders Division of ICA.
Chanelle Taoi, Associate Legal Officer with UNHCR, noted that “UNHCR has a long-standing relationship of positive engagement with the Government of Papua New Guinea to ensure protection to asylum-seekers and refugees.
“This information session, to ensure that the COVID-19 response at the border is appropriately balanced with PNG’s international obligations under international refugee and human rights law to provide safety for those seeking asylum, is a very positive precedent in the Pacific region.”
UNDP is facilitating the workshops as part of its humanitarian coordination role in support of the Government of PNG and national partners throughout the COVID-19 response.
“We are fully committed to supporting the Government and national partners to prepare for, and respond, not only to COVID-19 but to all emergencies and crises, while ensuring that human rights—especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalized—are protected,” said Richard Higgins, Humanitarian Coordination Specialist.
Feature Pic: Margaret Gitai, ICA, listens to a PNGDF soldier ask a question about how to handle different types of people crossing the border. Credit: RHiggins/UNDP