FOLLOWING the riots at the regional processing centre on Manus Island in February many asylum seekers who had been exposed to the brutality of both the PNG police and local G4S staff decided they would prefer to go back to their own country rather than be resettled in Papua New Guinea.
So far so good for the deterrence strategy of the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments.
However, given time to reflect on their position, many of the asylum seekers have changed their minds and have decided that PNG might be a viable option after all.
What sparked this change of heart is the knowledge that travelling illegally between PNG and Australia is very easy. A simple banana boat ride from Daru or Merauke across to Thursday Island and onwards will do the trick.
One wonders whether this was what Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was checking out on his recent overfly of the Torres Strait.
His professed reason of seeing for himself the route where drugs and guns pass back and forth hardly seems plausible given the existence of the trade and the lack of interest in stopping it shown by both Australian and PNG governments over the last 30 years.
It is beyond doubt that there will be many eager skippers in PNG and West Papua prepared to run asylum seekers through the islands for a price. They already have the routes and means in place and are expert at avoiding the pesky Australian patrol boats. Add to this is the fact that the middlemen are already in place.
Indeed, once the flow starts, it won’t take long before the people smugglers in Indonesia, not to mention incoming asylum seekers, realise the convenience of the route.
Once that happens, there will be a hullabaloo about tightening up border security between PNG and Australia. Not that it will do much good because the Torres Strait is such a vast area with so many places to hide that nothing short of massive expenditure on security measures will do.
One unfortunate spin-off will be that, for legitimate travellers between PNG and Australia, it will become even harder to secure a visa.
The difficulty of obtaining visas to enter Australia has been a sore point for many years in PNG. Many Papua New Guineans have legitimate reasons for visiting Australia. Very soon it is likely to become much harder.
As for off-shore processing, well, it was an interesting, if inhumane, experiment but, as they say, where there is a will there is a way.