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Wednesday 24 August 2016 | Published in Regional


Court rules on closure of PNG detention centre

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court has confirmed that both the PNG and Australia governments are responsible for closing the Manus Island offshore processing centre.

A three-man Supreme Court bench yesterday discharged an inquiry seeking to enforce April’s ruling that holding people against their will on Manus is illegal, and that the centre should be closed.

Amid claims by Australia that it was not responsible for the centre or the resettlement of any refugees there, a series of hearings since April saw Chief Justice Sir Salam Injia giving judicial direction for the closure of the centre.

PNG Immigration has been given until the end of October to finish the processing of refugee status determinations for all of the roughly 900 men detained on Manus.

Yesterday, the bench said that the court had already confirmed that both governments are jointly responsible for complying with the ruling.

This effectively paves the way for lawyers representing the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus to pursue enforcement applications for their release, and to have them returned to Australia as well as to seek compensation.

The men held on Manus, like those asylum seekers taken to the camps on Nauru, have fled from countries such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Of those who have been processed to date, the vast majority have been found to be genuine refugees.

Last week, Australia’s Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, met with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill in Port Moresby, following which both issued statements to the effect that Manus was going to be closed.

“Both Papua New Guinea and Australia are in agreement that the centre is to be closed,” said O’Neill, adding that a series of options were being considered.

Dutton said his government would help PNG with the closure, but has given no timeline.

“I’m not going to go into the timeline because this is an issue for PNG,” he said.

“It is important that this process is not rushed but carried out in a careful manner.”

One refugee on Manus, the Kurdish-Iranian journalist Behrouz Boochani, said the uncertainties about where they will end up, and the long, torturous processing of their asylum claims by PNG Immigration, have taken a toll on everyone in the centre.

He described Manus as a prison where he and the other detainees are routinely mistreated and dehumanised.

“The prisoners have become too weak and too obedient to confront this system that has stripped them of all human dignity.”

The refugees have indicated they do not want to be resettled in PNG which lacks a reputable resettlement policy – the handful of refugees who PNG Immigration left for integration into local communities have had a torrid time.

Grant Bayldon from Amnesty International New Zealand said while he welcomed the sign that Manus would be closed, the extensive suffering that caused asylum seekers to flee their home countries, and their painful plight since, must be taken into account.

He was concerned about the lack of a timeline on the Manus closure, and was hoping for some accountability from Canberra.

“Australia has not acknowledgement that its programme is illegal and that it’s been a human rights disaster – that it has deliberately abused and inflicted cruelty on people who have just been looking for safety,” he said.

“We need to know from the Australian government what will happen to the people on Manus now, and what we’re saying to them is those people need to be safely resettled in Australia.” - PNC sources