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UNDP head denies endorsing Paga Hill Development Company evictions

June 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Settlers moved from the foreshore at Paga Hill to the inland site of Gerehu, where they live in appalling conditions.  Photo: Aid Watch

Port Moresby settlers evicted to make way for Australian-backed development ‘abandoned’

Source: Heath Aston in Sydney Morning Herald

A majority of settlers evicted from a headland shanty town in Port Moresby to make way for a gated tourism and casino precinct backed by Australian property developers have been “simply abandoned”, with some now sleeping rough, according to human rights investigators.

Two Australian-run companies involved in moving squatters from waterfront Paga Hill and its foreshore between 2012 and 2014 dispute the numbers of people affected, but charities Aid Watch and Jubilee Australia claim 2000 of an estimated 3000 squatters were given no resettlement and in many cases no compensation, and up to 500 of those could be living on the streets of the capital.

They have also raised questions about the claimed success of resettlement programs for those relocated to make way for a gated waterfront estate that the PNG government has earmarked as a likely setting for the 2018 APEC conference of world leaders.

Australia is spending about $100 million to support the Port Moresby APEC summit, with a particular focus on security through the ongoing presence of the Australian Federal Police in PNG.

The brochure for the Paga Hill development showing the headland that has been cleared for development. Photo: Paga Hill Development Company

Former prime minister Tony Abbott said APEC would be “an important coming of age for PNG”.

Australian mining company Oil Search is building a floating reception centre to be called APEC Haus at the Paga Hill headland.

Human rights lawyer Brynn O’Brien, who is writing a report for Jubilee and Aid Watch, said Australia had a responsibility to the people of Paga Hill if it was backing the APEC meeting with public money.

“The Australian government should make a commitment not to support any event held on land associated with human rights violations until people have been resettled,” she told Fairfax Media.

Six Mile, another site were people were moved to. Photo: Aid Watch

“The majority of people were simply abandoned and a significant proportion of those, perhaps a quarter, are living under bridges, under buildings.”

The evictions, conducted with the support of armed PNG police, were raised at a recent senate estimates hearing where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s first assistant secretary, Pacific division, Daniel Sloper, said it was not Australia’s responsibility.

Another humpy at Gerehu. Photo: Aid Watch

“Certainly there have been areas and villages that have moved on. I am not denying that at all,” he said.

“My only point was that was a responsibility of the PNG government rather than a responsibility of the Australian government.”

Paga Hill was once the focal point of Australia’s World War II defence of Port Moresby. The thousands of settlers who moved there in the decades after 1945 became known as “bunker people” for their use of abandoned wartime fortifications to create makeshift homes.

The Paga Hill Development Company is run by Icelandic-Australian businessman Gudmundur “Gummi” Fridriksson, a former chief executive of Noel Pearson’s Cape York Institute.

Last year Fairfax Media revealed a legal wrangle in which one PNG’s most revered former politicians, Carol Kidu, and the Paga Hill Development Company sought to block the release of an Australian documentary, The Opposition, about local resistance to the evictions.

Ms O’Brien interviewed people who were moved from the foreshore by Townsville-based civil contractors Curtain Bros, with the support of PNG’s National Capital District Commission to an area called Gerehu on the outskirts of Port Moresby.

She found at least 600 people living in homes made from “pieces of wood, sticks, fibro, sheet metal, tarpaulins” and without power or running water.

“At Gerehu lots of the adults and children are noticeably thin even by PNG standards, they appear malnourished. At Paga Hill their main source of protein was fish caught from the sea but this site is inland with no reliable public transport” she said.

Curtain Bros did not return calls.

At another resettlement site, known as Six Mile, the original facilities built by PHDC in 2014 are badly run down. The company offered resettlement of cash compensation for people living on the hill rather than those living on the foreshore and in other areas.

Of the estimated 400 people at Six Mile, according to Ms O’Brien, most remain in temporary accommodation – tents under a steel shed roof – because they can’t afford to enter into the “land use agreements” that were offered.

A Paga Hill Development Company spokesman said:

“PHDC cannot be held responsible for the relocation site almost three years after it was formally handed over in October 2014 to UN acclaim.”

The UN’s support for the project is in dispute.

Roy Trivedy, the United Nations’ resident co-ordinator in PNG, said he attended one meeting where he was impressed with written plans for the resettlement but has not been involved in anything to do with Paga Hill since.

“I’ve asked the company to stop using my name to endorse something I haven’t seen,” he said.