Which country is best equipped to accomodate refugees - Australia, Nauru or PNG?

Australia is well positioned to accept and accommodate refugees from the processing centres in Nauru and on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG).  However, accomodating such a large number of people in either Nauru or PNG presents insurmountable challenges.  

Australia is far larger and more prosperous than both Nauru and PNG in every sense including land size, population, wealth, health, education and infrastructure.  This would indicate significant challenges for both Nauru and PNG in accomodating such large numbers of people into their populations, whether permanently or temporarily.  The same could not be said for Australia. 





Population 2016 (est)

  24 309 000

  10 000

  7 776 000

Surface Area (in square kilometres)

  7 692 060


  462 840

Population Density (per square Km)







  Kina (PGK)

Gross Domestic Product (in million USD)

  1 471 439


  16 572

Gross Domestic Product per capita (USD)

  62 290.10

  17 856.80

  2 220.90

Unemployment (% of labour force)




Fertility rate (live births per woman)




Life expectancy at birth (females/males, years)

  84.3 / 79.9

  63.2 / 57.5

  64.5 / 60.3

Total dependency ratio (Population aged 0-14 and 65+ per 100 population aged 15-65)




Infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births)




Health: Total expenditure (% of GDP)




Education: Primary gross enrolment ratio (female/male per 100 population)

  106.2 / 106.9

  100.4 / 109.5

  109.3 / 119.8

Education:  Secondary gross enrolment ratio (female/male per 100 population)

  133.7 / 141.2

  83.4 / 81.9

  34.6 / 45.8

Population using improved drinking water sources (urban/rural, %)

  100.0 / 100.0

  96.5 / -

  88.0 / 32.8

Population using improved sanitation facilities (urban/rural, %)

  100.0 / 100.0

  65.6 / -

  56.4 / 13.3


Health and life expectancy

Australians, on average, can expect to live about 20 years longer than people living in either Nauru or PNG.  Australia spends more money (a larger percentage of a larger amount) on health and this is made obvious in the extended life expectancy and the lower infant mortality rates.


The education ratio describes the number of enrolments in a given level of education compared to the eligible population for that level of education.  Therefore, where there is universal education for the school-age population, the ratio will be expressed as more than 100.

In Australia, that is true for both primary and secondary education:  all the school-age people are at school and there are others also engaged in both primary and secondary education.

In both Nauru and Papua New Guinea there appears to be universal primary education.  However, this is not the case for secondary education.  The statistics indicate that people living in Nauru and PNG cannot expect a secondary education in the way people living in Australia can.


While 100% of Australians have access to safe drinking water and a hygienic toilet system (basic sanitation), in Nauru 3.5% of people have no access to safe drinking water and 34.4% have no access to basic sanitation.  In PNG the picture is worse with 12% of people in urban settings and 67.2 percent in rural settings having no access to safe drinking water.  In an urban setting in PNG 43.6% do not have access to basic sanitation and 86.7% of rural dwellers do not have access to basic sanitation.  Nations where safe drinking water and basic sanitation are not available for citizens are not places equipped to resettle people who have applied to Australia for asylum.

Author:           Tess Mulveney, Edmund Rice Centre

Source:          United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
                      World Statistics Pocketbook, 2016 Edition
                      United Nations, New York, 2016



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