Residents of Port Moresby informal settlement fear eviction for new road

Clifford Faiparik
2022.11.29
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
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Residents of Port Moresby informal settlement fear eviction for new road People walk at the ATS settlement, which will have a road built through it next year, causing evictions, in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby on Nov. 29, 2022.
Clifford Faiparik/BenarNews.

Residents of one of the largest informal settlements in Papua New Guinea’s capital fear eviction and homelessness next year when a major road will be built through their community.

Port Moresby and its surrounding area, which is designated as the National Capital District, has experienced an increase in mass evictions over several years as property developers and infrastructure projects push into communities established decades ago by migrants who lack legal title.

“We are worried for our future,” said William Kunia, a Labour Department official who is one of the 20,000 people who call the settlement home. “We have families and properties here. We built houses and shops. Our families have been living here for 30 years now.”

National Capital District Gov. Powes Parkop told BenarNews on Tuesday that the road through the settlement would start next year, but also said not many people would be evicted. About 2,000 people live in the surveyed path of the proposed road.

The settlement is known as ATS, short for Air Transport Squadron, because it’s next to an Air Force Base. Some 5,000 people were evicted from a nearby settlement last year and there were also substantial evictions from settlements in other parts of the city.

“They were left at their own mercy to relocate with their families elsewhere at their own arrangement and expense,” said Kunia. “We have seen how these settlers were displaced. Despite taking their pleas to the courts, they always fail. The courts always rule in the developer’s favor.”

The ATS settlement of dirt roads and flimsy buildings is a melting pot of Papua New Guinea’s ethnic groups with hundreds of languages spoken. Its inhabitants are business owners or work for government departments and private employers. Some of its people settled there after being evicted from other areas or had originally moved to Port Moresby to escape tribal violence in other parts of Papua New Guinea.

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People stand in the remains of the Morata settlement, which was demolished in October for a housing project, in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby on Nov. 29, 2022. [Clifford Faiparik/BenarNews]

Winn Kandamain, from Kamas village in the country’s northern highlands, said he settled in ATS 20 years ago and established a tire repair shop along the main road at the settlement’s entrance after paying landowners about 10,000 kina (about U.S.$3,100 at the time) for a small allotment.

“The road project will affect my business and [it] will shut down because we operate along the road. I will have to relocate my business elsewhere,” he said.

Kunia, who migrated from the southland highlands, said he accepts the road construction will proceed, but wants sufficient warning, a place to relocate to for his family of five children and nine grandchildren and compensation for lost homes and businesses.

We came from all over PNG and settled here. We made this settlement to be our home. We have people from all walks of life here,” he said. “We have spent thousands of kina to settle here. We have struggled to build houses and our shops from nothing.” 

Luna Luna, who fled his northern highlands village thirty years ago, said he is afraid the new road will result in another eviction for him and his family. 

“We left my village to escape tribal fights. And we can’t return to our original home because our tribal enemies had conquered our land,” he said. “I’m now living with anxiety as it will be my third time to be evicted.” 

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