A drive to evict informal settlers living on parcels of land around Jacksons Airport, Papua New Guinea’s main airport located to the northeast of Port Moresby, was announced in the early days of 2022. Residents of the Saiwara community protested being issued with several eviction notices over the past year by the National Airports Corporation (NAC), the most recent giving them until the end of the month to vacate the area. A petition against the eviction was signed by 5,000 residents and a representative stated that they had been paying a traditional landowner for the land. Many tax-paying small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s) also urged the government to stop the evictions. A video by EMTV Online shows men, women and children protesting, some holding up placards with statements such as ‘No Eviction Please’, ‘No Eviction, What is Government doing For My Future’.
Simultaneous with the eviction drive in Saiwara, NAC began pressuring residents to vacate Erima, another area adjacent to Jacksons Airport. A group of policemen visited communities and issued eviction notices. A long term resident said, “Police said the land close to the airport belongs to the National Airports Corporation and people must move out before the eviction date.” NAC managing director Rex Kiponge stated that the land belonged to NAC and that people must vacate the land by the end of January. He said, “I personally witnessed and heard from the police that any settlement or houses near the airport must be immediately moved out of force will be applied” and urged people living in the affected area to find a place to resettle.
A graphic in the EMTV Online video shows the parcels of land surrounding Jacksons Airport that the NAC lays claim to and where residents have been served with eviction notices. NAC managing director Rex Kiponge explained that the eviction drive was a strategic move to utilize the land for a non-aeronautical revenue stream, i.e. generation of revenue from sources other than airlines. (Typical sources of non-aeronautical revenue include retail, hotels, tourism facilities, business premises, real estate and car parking.) Kiponge also mentioned another hallmark characteristic of an aerotropolis/airport city: aspiriations for an airport to become a destination in its own right. He said that eviction of people from land around Jacksons Airport would support NAC’s new policy, namely ‘Converting Airports from Point of Transit to Point of Destination’. NAC’s focus on development of land for non-aeronautical purposes has been galvanised by a collapse in its revenue stream due to the drastic reduction in air traffic since the Covid-19 pandemic. Previously, NAC’s revenue had consisted of 80% from aeronautical business and 20% from non-aeronautical business. Kiponge said the NAC needed to start generating its own revenue and recouping its assets was in line with this aim.
Following questions in Parliament from member for Moresby North East, John Kaupa, PNG Prime Minister James Marape intervened, assuring settlers on airport-owned land at Erima and Saiwara that they would not be evicted by the NAC until a permanent solution was reached. He asked NAC to freeze their eviction plan. But the settlers are still under pressure to leave; Marape warned them not to move in onto state land and start building structures if they are not in possession of titles, saying that the Government would not step in to assist anyone on humanitarian grounds.
The current drive to evict communities living around Jacksons Airport is the latest in a series. In February 2017 police evicted more than 200 families who were living on state-owned land in Erima Bridge. Some of them had lived in makeshift and semi-permanent housing for more than 20 years. The officer in charge of Jacksons Airport said the police were acting on the orders of the land owned by the NAC and that over the course of a week all the houses and tents in the area in question had been removed. It was reported that they were left sleeping out in cold, wet weather conditions for a few days. Their only shelter was wooden frames and roofing iron and they had no food, water or clothing. A settler who had moved to Erima from the Highlands region said some people whose homes were destroyed had not received an eviction notice. At the time of the Erima Bridge eviction the Asian Development Bank (ADB) confirmed support for expansion of Jacksons Airport, signing an agreement with NAC to develop a new international passenger terminal. In May 2015 a demolition exercise at another settlement near Jacksons Airport, 7 mile, left more than 200 people homeless. Some of them were beaten up by the eviction squad. Evictees lost all they owned during the demolition and some homes were burned down. The eviction was part of NAC’s development plan for Jacksons Airport.
Information about evictions of communities surrounding Jacksons Airport has been published on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues: Jacksons Airport and evictions from land claimed by National Airports Corporation, PNG