Manus Island Refugees Take Legal Action
5 May 2016 at 9:46 am
More than 700 asylum seekers held in detention at Manus Island have taken legal action against the federal government in a bid to bring them to Australia.
Barrister Jay Williams, from legal firm Frederick Jordan Chambers in NSW, filed an injunction at the High Court, which called for detainees’ refugee claims to be processed in Australia so that they be prevented from being transferred to any other country and receive compensation in damages and legal costs.
The asylum seekers allege that the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments have committed serious human rights breaches, including holding them in forcible detention, torture and false imprisonment.
The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea recently ruled that the detention of asylum seekers on its territory was illegal and unconstitutional. However, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the government would negotiate with Papua New Guinea, and that Australia’s policy on people reaching the country by boat had not changed.
Solicitor for the asylum seekers Matthew Byrnes, from the Russell C Byrnes practice in Sydney, has called for a royal commission into the operation of the Manus Island detention centre, currently managed by maintenance firm Broadspectrum.
“We have 700 human beings illegally detained on this island and they have to be taken somewhere, and probably soon,” Byrnes told Pro Bono Australia News.
“I would think the majority of people in Australia would hope that the government would stop trying to play political football and deal with this humanely and legally.
“[The best outcome would be] for these people to be brought to Australia and properly processed according to law. It has already been determined that the vast majority of them are genuine refugees. They have committed no crime and they have been held in detention, some of them for three years. They are being treated worse than any criminal in Australia.”
The injunction has been given a return date for 23 May 2016. Byrnes said if the injunction was not granted then the legal team would consider other available options.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for the immediate movement of refugees and asylum seekers to humane conditions, after an Iranian asylum seeker succumbed to his injuries after setting himself on fire in Nauru.
“There is no doubt that the current policy of offshore processing and prolonged detention is immensely harmful. There are approximately 2000 very vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru. These people have already been through a great deal, many have fled war and persecution, some have already suffered trauma,” the statement said.
“The consensus among medical experts is that conditions of detention and offshore processing do immense damage to physical and mental health. UNHCR’s principal concern today is that these refugees and asylum-seekers are immediately moved to humane conditions with adequate support and services.”