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Wednesday 27 April 2016 | Published in Regional


PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court has ruled Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal.

The five-man bench of the court ruled the detention breached the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution.

There are 850 men in the detention centre on Manus Island, about half of whom have been found to be refugees.

The Supreme Court has ordered the PNG and Australian governments to immediately take steps to end the detention of asylum seekers in PNG.

“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,” the judges ordered.

In one of two lead judgments, Justice Terence Higgins said the detention also breached asylum seekers’ fundamental human rights guaranteed by various conventions on human rights at international law and under the PNG constitution.

“Treating those required to remain in the relocation centre as prisoners irrespective of their circumstances or status is to offend against their rights and freedoms,” Judge Higgins said.

Key points:

- Judges say detention on PNG breached asylum seekers’ fundamental human rights.

- Lawyer says PNG ignored it own laws when taking in Australia’s refugees.

- Dutton says no refugees will be resettled in Australia.

- Greens pushing for detainees to be brought to Australia.

Loani Henao, the lawyer for former PNG opposition leader Belden Namah, said the decision showed the PNG government had ignored its own laws when it accepted Australia’s asylum seekers.

“The gist of the ruling is the arrangement between the governments of Papua New Guinea and Australia was unconstitutional from day one,” he said.

Henao said PNG was influenced by Australia in amending its constitution, to the benefit of Australia.

“That is disgraceful,” he said.

The centre operators and PNG’s immigration authorities have recently been trying to move refugees out of detention and into a so-called transit centre.

They are also offering them the chance to leave detention during the day under certain conditions.

The asylum seekers whose applications have not succeeded are unable to leave detention and are being told they must go back to their country of origin.

The Supreme Court decision means both groups – refugees and asylum seekers – are being illegally detained, because their freedom of movement is curtailed.

Despite the ruling, Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said no detainees would be resettled in Australia.

In a statement, Dutton said the ruling would not alter Australia’s border protection policies.

“No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia,” he said.

“Those in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre found to be refugees are able to resettle in Papua New Guinea. Those found not to be refugees should return to their country of origin.

“People who have attempted to come illegally by boat and are now in the Manus facility will not be settled in Australia.”

Dutton said the agreement with PNG to establish the Manus Island centre was negotiated by the Gillard Labor government, but Labor’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the former government had only signed a 12-month contract.

Marles said Dutton needed to travel to PNG to sort out the issue as soon as tomorrow.

“We negotiated a 12-month agreement with Papua New Guinea for the use of Manus Island as an offshore processing facility in the expectation that the vast bulk of people would be processed and settled in that period of time,” he said.

Marles would not be drawn on whether remaining detainees should be transferred to Australia, saying instead it was important the people smuggler trade did not restart.

Greens immigration spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young has called for all remaining detainees to be brought to Australia.Senator Hanson-Young told said “the game was up” and the Turnbull government has to listen to legal and humanitarian experts.

“Really the Government now has no other option but to bring the people left there to Australia and allow them to apply for an Australian visa,” she said.

“They’ve seen two of their colleagues in the detention centre die, one at the hands of guards and another because he had an infected foot which became septic. These are people who have already suffered.”

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has backed her calls, describing offshore processing as “a gaping hole in Australia’s soul”.

“Australia must immediately respect the court ruling, promptly shut the centre down and transport all of the detainees to Australia for processing of their claims for asylum.”

PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill last month told the National Press Club in Canberra that he wanted the regional processing centre to close.