The refugee who wants to stay on Manus
Alex Rashid is, in some ways, a poster boy for n policy on Manus Island.
He holds out no forlorn hope of settling in . Nor does he want to move to the United States or New Zealand. He wants to settle in Manus permanently.
The problem is, he cannot afford the immigration fees, has no idea how to navigate the process, and says the n government is providing no help at all.
Mr Rashid fled Burma by boat more than four years ago to escape the persecution of the Rohingya minority that he was born into. Now, as the n government hoped all the Manus refugees would, he wants to stay on Manus Island. Forever.
“My life is a beautiful life. I have two babies, my wife, my family is here,” the 26-year-old said.
Rohingya refugee Alex Rashid and his wife Molly and children on Manus Island Photo: GetUP
Mr Rashid lives with his family and is not involved in the increasingly tense standoff at the former n-funded processing centre. But hours after the Fairfax Media interview, the Papua New Guinea authorities threatened to dismantle fences around the centre and forcibly remove asylum seekers still inside.
The PNG Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority warned those remaining that it was in a “very unhygienic state” and “a health hazard”. Fairfax Media understands video footage taken by activist group GetUp in recent days confirms the deplorable conditions.
Mr Rashid is fighting a different battle: to become a PNG citizen.
Speaking to Fairfax Media on Thursday and filmed last weekend by GetUp, Mr Rashid said the process of being re-settled in PNG was proving far more difficult than the n Government had made it out to be.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said in April that PNG had a “responsibility to settle” legitimate refugees who opted to remain after closure of the n-funded centre.
But Mr Rashid said the n-funded support programs never provided him with advice on how to achieve PNG citizenship nor any financial assistance to meet the $4000 application fee.
He had, however, had three meetings set up for him with United States officials to discuss resettlement.
“But I don’t want to go there. My future is in PNG,” he said.
Mr Rashid’s journey has been a long and dangerous one. After witnessing murder, rape and burning villages in Burma, he fled by boat and ended up at Christmas Island. He was then transferred to Manus Island.
For his first two years, he was “without hope, without wishes, nothing”.
Everything changed when he met a local woman named Molly. They fell in love and married. More good news arrived when PNG accepted his status as a genuine refugee in August 2015.
A letter from PNG’s then immigration minister, Rimbink Pato, outlined a process to apply for a visa and identity document to “prepare for life in PNG”.
Two years later, Mr Rashid is again concerned about his future. His travel permit and identity document have not been renewed by PNG authorities since they expired in January. This means he cannot travel to see his mother in Yangon.
“I cannot see, I cannot touch, I cannot feel,” he said.
Mr Rashid said it was hard for him not to feel let down by . He thought that by opting to remain in PNG, he was doing what wanted.
“I just want ‘s help to stay here and start a life with my family. Nothing else. Please help me,” he said.
A Department of Immigration and Border Protection spokesman said on Thursday that “refugee settlement and citizenship in PNG is a matter for the PNG Government”.
The refugees and asylum seekers still at the processing centre say they need to remain because the alternative facilities are unsafe. The government dismisses this, saying they are ready, and that many of those refusing to move are regular visitors to the nearby township.
Senior n government sources said PNG authorities were reluctant to use force, despite warning they would. The PNG government strategy, quietly supported by the Federal Government, appears to be to weaken resolve among those holding out at the decommissioned centre by denying essential services and encouraging small groups to break ranks.