The Australian Government is helping develop a tourism industry on the Papua New Guinean island it detained asylum seekers on.
The six-month adviser role is worth up to $146,000, plus allowances.
There are still about 600 refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island, where four asylum seekers have died and a further two contracted fatal illnesses and subsequently died in Australia. A number of asylum seekers have also been the victims of violent assaults, including by PNG police and PNG Defence Force personnel stationed on Manus. The decision to develop tourism was not the Australian Government’s idea — the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said the island’s government had asked for help in that area.
“The Manus Provincial Administration has identified tourism as a priority, in order to help generate job opportunities and economic growth,” it said in a statement.
Manus Island has just two hotels — one of which houses guards for the asylum seeker accommodation that replaced the detention centre. It previously housed the heavily-armed police sent to restore order on Manus following the 2014 riots, in which Iranian asylum-seeker Reza Barati was murdered.
But while the island is chiefly known for hosting the detention centre, the chief executive of PNG’s Tourism Promotion Authority Jerry Agus thinks it could become a legitimate tourist destination.
“Actually, Manus has huge potential in terms of tourism,” Mr Agus said.
“One of the greatest areas of strength they have in terms of tourism is diving, surfing is one of them, and there’s a lot war relics in Manus Island as well.”
Manus is the largest of a group of islands known as the Admiralty Islands, many of which are quite beautiful and have previously hosted tourism ventures in diving and surfing. But Mr Agus acknowledged while Manus could provide pretty places for tourists to visit, it had little tourism infrastructure and would have to overcome negative perceptions about the offshore detention regime.
“Manus Island is not … only the detention centre. It’s a big place, there are a lot of things you can see and do — even completely out of sight of the detention centre. It’s not about what you hear about and what you read in the papers. There’s a lot of positive things going on in terms of tourism development.” he said.
One of the main tasks for the adviser will be to create a new tourism website for Manus Island. The current one reads: “Life in the city would be stressful. Why not spent a week of mind off at one of the last and isolated island of Papua New Guinea known as the Admiralty Islands or nationally known as Manus Island. It is splendid!”
A key measure of success will be if actual tourists replace those people currently visiting Manus on tourist visas — namely journalists circumventing PNG’s restrictive media visa process and asylum-seeker advocates visiting the people Australia sent there.