PNG Rules Manus Island Detention is Illegal
Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court has ruled Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal. A panel of five judges ruled that detention on PNG breached asylum seekers' fundamental human rights and breached the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution
There are currently 850 men in the detention center on Manus Island, off the PNG coast, about half of whom have been found to be refugees, many arrived in Australian waters by boat from Asia.
“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 center on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers or transferees constitutional and human rights,” the judges ordered.
The order means that people considered to be either refugees or asylum seekers are being illegally detained because their freedom of movement is curtailed.
“The Court’s decision affirms the Commission’s long-standing concern that the prolonged and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea may lead to breaches of our obligations under international law,” said President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs.
“This ruling is further confirmation that Australia’s detention policies are increasingly out of step with international norms,” she said.
The Commission – along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Committee against Torture – have all expressed concern about the arbitrary detention of refugees and asylum seekers in regional processing centers.
Numerous studies, including the Commission’s The Forgotten Children Report, have shown that prolonged detention has negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers.
While the Commission would welcome efforts to release people from detention in Papua New Guinea, the future of these men remains profoundly uncertain.
The Australian Greens have welcomed the PNG Supreme Court’s decision, declaring the Manus Island camp to be illegal, and have called on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to bring the people who have been locked up there to Australia.
“The game is up. The government has got to shut the Manus Island detention camp and bring these people here," the Greens' immigration spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
“This is an important decision and I welcome it. It shows that the Australian Government has been illegally detaining refugees on Manus Island for years.
“Malcolm Turnbull has to act. He needs to allow the people there to be brought to Australia so that they can have their claims assessed and, if they are in need of protection, be integrated into the community. These people have been through enough. It's time they were given the safety and care that they deserve.”
However, Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said that no detainees would be resettled in Australia and the ruling would not alter Australia's border protection policies.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has previously stated that the sustainable integration of these refugees into the Papua New Guinea community “will raise formidable challenges and protection concerns.”
The Commission also holds ongoing concerns for the safety of same-sex attracted refugees and asylum seekers who have been sent to Papua New Guinea, where same-sex sexual activity is criminalized.
Graeme McGregor of Amnesty International Australia has visited Manus Island. Human Rights at Sea spoke to him about Australia’s offshore detention facilities here.