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Lawyer seeks to make Australia liable

Monday 2 May 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – The lawyer representing hundreds of asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island will this week seek a court order to make Australia legally liable for those at the detention centre.

Last week, the Supreme Court declared the detention on Australia’s behalf of asylum seekers on Manus Island unconstitutional, and the government later announced that the centre would close.

Immigration minister Peter Dutton has said Australia is not a party to the PNG court proceeding and it will not allow any of the men into the country.

Port Moresby-based lawyer Ben Lomai, who acts for about 600 of the detainees, said they have not yet been released from the centre.

“The important point is we will be seeking leave to join Australia, as a party to these proceedings, and then I’ll get an order to have the asylum seekers returned back to Australia,” he said.

Lomai said he would be seeking to make the Commonwealth of Australia a defendant in the asylum seekers’ challenge to their detention.

He said that if successful, and if the Supreme Court ruled in their favour, they would have to be released back into Australia’s care as their first port of entry.

“In any case we say that, look, the arrangement has been nullified which means that all the parties will have to go back to the drawing board. In this case, the asylum seekers must be returned back to the first port of entry.”

The application will seek an order from the Supreme Court that “asylum seekers and the refugees, who were the subject to the memorandum of agreements between PNG and Commonwealth of Australia, shall forthwith be released into the care of the Commonwealth of Australia and be returned back to Australia, being the first port of entry, within 30 days or a time practicable, but not less than 60 days, from the date of this order.”

“Of course we will be serving on the consulate here on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, and that will take some time for them to have a look at the documents,” Lomai said.

PNG prime minister Peter O’Neill said on Friday the Manus Island centre must close but the timeframe depended on negotiations with the Australian government.

The Supreme Court ordered earlier this week said that, “both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of the asylum seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers or transferees constitutional and human rights.”

Lomai said contempt of court proceedings would also be filed if the detainees were not released.

The detained men on Manus island celebrated at news of the decision but now again fear what will happen to them.

“At least they’ve been give back their freedom, but it comes with mixed feelings for them because what is next,” Lomai said.

“Most of them want to come to Australia. Are they going to go to Australia, Nauru or a third country?”

- RNZI