A refugee is in hiding on Manus Island in fear of his life, after allegedly being tricked by Papua New Guinea immigration officials into making a newspaper advertisement promoting resettlement.Haider Khan told the ABC other refugees are furious with him and have threatened his life for appearing in a photograph holding a digitally-altered sign saying: “Thank you for helping us.”
Mr Khan said he did not agree to the campaign and specifically asked PNG officials not to use his image publicly.
“Why Australian Government and PNG Government play with us, this is our lives,” he said in a phone call from Manus Island.
Mr Khan said the photo was taken during a trip to PNG’s capital Port Moresby, which was suggested by a woman named Jenna working for Transfield Services.
Mr Khan said PNG immigration officials promised him a meeting with the immigration minister and refugee status if he agreed to go on the trip.
He said he felt “very happy” to have a break from Manus Island, where he has spent 19 months, mostly in detention.
Mr Khan said he posed for a photo to thank officials for giving him $303 to buy food and T-shirts, but warned PNG immigration not to publish the image.
“[I said] if you put my photo in the poster, here the refugees and asylum seekers will be very angry with me,” he said.
On June 10, two national newspapers published an advertisement featuring a photograph of Mr Khan, as well as his name, nationality and occupation.
“The Government of PNG has permitted refugees to live and rebuild their lives in PNG,” the newspaper advertisement said.
“Let’s give them a positive start.”
But that positive start quickly turned negative for Mr Khan, when other refugees in the transit centre accused him of speaking on their behalf and promoting a resettlement plan many see as deeply flawed.
“Many refugees said, ‘Everyone witness, if I see his face, we are kill him’,” Mr Khan told the ABC.
He said he understands why other refugees are upset but insists he did not mean to speak on their behalf and was duped into appearing in the promotion.
The ABC has independently confirmed the threats against Mr Khan.
“Yes unfortunately, somebody are still threatening him,” another refugee staying at the East Lorengau transit centre said.
‘I’m in a very bad situation’
On Wednesday, the 33-year-old Bangladeshi man fled the Australian-funded transit centre, a place for those who have been released from detention and are awaiting resettlement.
“In front of the road there is one small empty shop … I’m sleeping there, many mosquitoes bit me,” Mr Khan said.
He then walked away from the transit centre and is sheltering in the home of a local resident with only bread and biscuits to eat.
“Now I’m in a very bad situation, I have one T-shirt, one shorts, I can’t shower here, no toilet,” he said.
This is not life. I get the refugee status, why I wait here, why I don’t go outside, why this situation?Haider Khan
“I’m so much hungry,” he said, breaking into tears on the phone.
He has been hiding for three days.
Mr Khan said he does not want to return to the transit centre where other refugees have threatened him and cursed his mother.
“This is not life. I get the refugee status, why I wait here, why I don’t go outside, why this situation?” he said.
Papua New Guinea’s immigration minister Rimbink Pato, chief migration officer Mataio Rabura and Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton have been contacted for comment.
Three PNG immigration officials have been charged over the incident.
In July 2013, Papua New Guinea agreed to take about 1,300 asylum seekers who had tried to reach Australia by boat, detaining them on a naval base on remote Manus Island.
In exchange, Australia is giving PNG $420 million in additional aid and spending $513 million to upgrade immigration infrastructure, on top of the cost of detention and processing on Manus Island.
More than 400 asylum seekers have returned to the country they fled and 129 have been found to be refugees.
Two Iranian men have died – one bashed to death allegedly by local staff at the detention centre, and the other from an infected foot.
Almost two years after the Refugee Resettlement Arrangement was signed, no refugees have been resettled in Papua New Guinea and the Government does not have a policy for resettlement.