Asylum seekers detained in Australia’s Manus Island center await their fate

An asylum seeker detained at Australia's Manus Island Processing Center in Papua New Guinea. (Photo Credit: Greens MPs via Flickr / Creative Commons)

Four months after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ordered the shut-down of the  Manus Island detention center, more than 800 detainees await an uncertain fate.  The Court is considering  an application for summary judgment filed this week, and a decision could come as soon as Tuesday.

The Manus Island Regional Processing Center is an Australian immigration facility  on an isolated Pacific island. It houses asylum seekers intercepted offshore in line with Australia’s hard-line policy of preventing refugees from reaching its coastline. Georgia Clark reports from Sydney.

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The Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea reaffirmed this week that both PNG and Australia are responsible for the closure of Manus Island. The Court’s order ending an inquiry means that concrete steps toward freeing the hundreds of people held there can begin.

The PNG top court ordered closure of the facility in April, after finding the detention of the asylum seekers breached the right to personal liberty safeguarded in the country’s constitution.

But, the Court has not yet decided on the fate of the more than 800 people held there – most of them originally from Iran and intercepted as they tried to reach Australian shores.

Ben Lomai represents more than 600 of the detainees, and he was in the PNG courtroom this week. Mr. Lomai told FSRN that the inquiry wasted time and that its discharge is a step forward for the resident’s case.

“Well, absolutely, you see because our two enforcement applications were put on hold pending the outcome of the inquiry, which was going around in circles,” Lomai explains. “That was not in our client’s best interests, so we supported the application and we are happy that their order to hold our application has already been revoked.”

According to Lomai, the residents will now seek summary judgment, which he says would make a swift assessment of compensation more likely. But, the issue of who will pay compensation remains contested.

“The orders will be made against Independent State of PNG but of course Australia is morally obligated to pay for their compensation,” says Lomai.

But it remains unclear where the detainees will be sent upon release. Australia’s Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, has ruled out any of the residents resettling in Australia.

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