“I think many of them are just out there trying to have economic opportunities that Australia and other countries offer to them,” Mr O’Neill said.
“We have already started talking with their representatives here in Canberra and we are asking those governments to facilitate the transfer of these people.”
Mr O’Neill was asked how PNG could trust the Iranian government to truthfully assess whether an asylum seeker who had fled Iran would face persecution on his or her forced return.
“I’m hoping that we all care about our citizens and they will care about the people who are in this predicament and we will all try and do the best for these people,” he said.
The Greens said the comments were extremely concerning.
“Forcefully returning refugees to danger is a death sentence and, if it is allowed to go ahead, many lives will be lost,” Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
“The asylum claims haven’t even been processed yet, but the PNG government has already decided to deport everyone to danger in coming weeks.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the talks with Iran and Iraq were an issue for PNG and rejected the idea that asylum seekers would be forced to return home.
At least 50 men on Manus Island have been granted refugee status and six of those refugees have moved to a transit facility to wait for permanent resettlement in another province of PNG.
Mr O’Neill said he expected only “very small numbers” of asylum seekers to be deemed refugees and the rest would be returned “within weeks”.
However, previous timelines given by the PNG government for immigration processing have not been met.
Mr O’Neill blamed the slow processing of refugee applications on asylum seekers not having documents and not being forthcoming with information.
“We are now trying to work with some of their governments, from where they come from like Iraq and Iran, but as you know sometimes getting information out of those countries is not an easy task,” Mr O’Neill said.
He said PNG officials were working with Australian government agencies on processing the asylum applications of those on Manus Island.
Source: Radio Australia (ABC)