Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Australia risks being sued over PNG detention center. - lawyers

Australia risks being sued for false imprisonment after the Papua New Guinea supreme court ruled the operation of the Australian-run Manus Island detention center was illegal.

The Australian Lawyers Alliance said ruling of the PNG Supreme Court deeming the detention of asylum seekers at the Australian-run Manus Island processing center unconstitutional strengthens claims the nation breached it's duty of care for detainees, local media reported Wednesday.

"The ruling makes it highly likely that asylum seekers can successfully make claims for damages for false imprisonment from the time they entered detention on Manus Island," spokesman Greg Barns said.

"If Australia ignores the decision then it is contradicting its oft-state claim that Manus Island detention is a matter for PNG jurisdiction."

Though the number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australian shores pales in comparison to those that attempted to enter Europe, Papua New Guinea hosts one of two Australian offshore immigration processing centers. The other center is on the pacific island of Nauru.

The PNG Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled the original memorandum of understanding establishing the arrangement was unconstitutional as asylum seekers were entering PNG against their will and had their freedom of movement curtailed despite not breaking any local laws.

The court also ruled a constitutional amendment made by the central government last year to legitimise the process was also unconstitutional, and therefore invalid.

As such, the court ordered both governments to take "all steps necessary" to end the detention of asylum seekers on the island.

Australia was not a party to the legal proceedings.

  • Australian immigration minister Peter Dutton on Wednesday continued to insist asylum seekers who arrive by boat will not be resettled in Australia and can either return home or go to a third country willing to accept them.

Though Australia has had contingency plans in place due to a number of legal disputes against Australia's controversial immigration policy, Dutton said the ruling was a matter for the PNG government.

"Before people get ahead of themselves, let's see what the PNG government has to say, what their response will be and how it is they propose to deal with the situation," Dutton told Australia's national broadcaster on Wednesday

The policy, adopted in 2013, is designed to stop the flow of asylum seekers using people smuggling operations to reach Australia by boat following a spate of tragic deaths at sea.

  • About half of the some 850 people currently detained on Manus Island have been found to be refugees which authorities have been attempting to move into a nearby transit-center.

In anticipation of the courts ruling, authorities had been allowing those at the transit-center to enter the local community during they day under certain conditions.

Exacerbating the refugee resettlement program in PNG however, only eight have been moved into the community, three of which had attempted to re-enter the transit center, Fairfax Media reported last week.

Asylum seekers who have been denied refugee status have been told they must go back to their country of origin.

  • It's unlikely however the remaining detainees will be transferred to Australia's immigration processing center on Nauru.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, at a speech in Australia in early March, said his country's reputation had suffered because of the center on Manus Island and that the struggling nation could ill-afford the cost of refugee resettlement.
 [Xinhua -]

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