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article imageAustralia, PNG agree compromise on security deal for asylum seekers

By AFP     Jun 27, 2019 in World

Australia has agreed to stop using a controversial security contractor to run asylum-seeker centres in Papua New Guinea which have been plagued by incidents of self-harm and attempted suicide.

Following demands by PNG Prime Minister James Marape to take the lucrative contract away from the little known Australian security firm Paladin, the two governments agreed to transfer the work to local firms, officials said.

A joint statement issued late Wednesday said Paladin's contract -- which has been worth AU$21 million (US$14 million) per month and was due to expire this week -- would be extended only as long as it took PNG to find qualified local firms to provide services to the asylum seekers on the country's Manus Island.

"While procurement processes take time, Australia will work with Papua New Guinea to transition to new service providers within the quickest possible time, at which time Australian held contracts will be terminated," the statement said.

Paladin was given the contract without any competitive tender in 2017 to provide housing and security for the asylum seekers, sent to Manus by Australia after trying to reach the country by boat.

At the time, the company was registered to a beach shack in Australia and had a post box in Singapore. The award is currently under investigation by government auditors.

Despite controversy over the contract, the Home Affairs Ministry earlier this week said it intended to renew the deal with Paladin.

But following Marape's protest, the compromise was agreed.

From 2012 to 2017 Australia ran detention camps on Manus under a hardline policy of turning back anyone trying to arrive in the country by sea -- including refugees fleeing wars and unrest as far afield as Sudan and Iran.

But after the PNG Supreme Court ruled the arrangement unconstitutional, Australia handed the camps over to local authorities, with daily management of security and other operations given to Paladin.

Several thousand asylum seekers were sent to Manus and the Pacific island nation of Nauru under the tough immigration policy. The 500 men still on Manus have been in the island camps for nearly six years.

Many of the refugees have been resettled, but those remaining on the remote islands have become increasingly desperate and the UN and human rights organisations have been scathing about their treatment by Australia.

There has been a rash of suicide attempts and other incidents of self-harm among the Manus refugees since Australia's conservative government was re-elected to office in mid-May.

The opposition Labor party had been widely expected to win the vote, raising hopes among the asylum seekers of an easing of their plight.

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