Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister has announced the processing centre will close, following a Supreme Court ruling that it was unconstitutional.
A date for its closure is yet to be confirmed. But the Australian government has repeated the assertion that the detainees, which are all male and include both asylum seekers and refugees, will never be settled on Australian soil.
The future of about 850 detainees in the Manus Island Regional Processing centre is in limbo, after the country’s Supreme Court ruled the centre unconstitutional.
Australia’s Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, says talks with the PNG Government are continuing.
But he says bringing the detainees to Australia is not an option.
“We will work with the PNG Government and I’ve been very clear and I repeat it again today that the men of Manus Island will not be settling permanently in Australia and we’ll work with the PNG Government to help them return home or back to third countries. We are not going to allow people who have sought to come to our country illegally by boat to settle here permanently, we’ll work with PNG Government to look through what options they have.”
Mr Dutton says there is room for the detainees to be moved to another facility on Nauru, but this is yet to be determined in talks with PNG.
It’s also been suggested the detainees could be taken to the Christmas Island detention centre.
But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ruled this possibility out.
“None of the people currently residing at Manus, none of the detainees there, will come to Australia. They will not come to Australia. That is absolutely clear and the PNG Government knows that and understands that very well.”
The Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre’s David Manne told the ABC, there is now a clear legal and practical consequence for the Australian Government to ensure the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus are freed as soon as possible.
He says the court’s decision was crucial.
But he says it does not solve a core question of what lies ahead for those who sought safety in Australia.
“Any solution that is come up with must resolve the fundamental issue, and that is to ensure people can be brought to a secure and safe place so that they can rebuild their lives. PNG is not such a place. Sadly so, it is not a place that can provide safety for refugees, it is not a place where people can sustain a proper livelihood and the question remains: where will the government find a place of security and safety for their future? The big question here is does the government have a plan? And they haven’t outlined a plan and the onus is on them to do so because the fundamental responsibility for the fate of these people lies with the Australian Government.”
PNG’s High Commissioner to Australia, Charles Lepani, says further discussions are due to take place early next week
But he has indicated to the ABC, the facility will not be closing just yet.
“Well this is the subject of discussions between officials by early next week. It’s not going to close immediately because you have approximately 700 asylum seekers still there, and we need to manage this carefully going forward.”
Mr Dutton says the government had been planning for the facility’s closure since late-last year, when it began anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision.
But he’s told Sky News it’s up to the PNG Government.
“Already the PNG government has put in place some measures which would placate the concerns of the judges in the Supreme Court case. They’ll deal with those issues, whether or not the centre can continue on in some form is an issue for the PNG Government, potentially there’s some time for this to be dealt with, we’ll deal with it in a measured, reasonable way as you would expect.”
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth told Lateline, the court’s decision to say there is no justification for the detention is in line with international law.
He says it seems like the decision is the beginning of the end to an Australian policy he describes as making lives so miserable for asylum seekers that they ultimately just go back home.
“I was surprised, but I was very happy because frankly, a fair assessment of the policy would have led to the court’s ruling. In other words: there is nothing illegal about seeking asylum. This is recognised in international law. A very large percentage of asylum seekers arrive without visas. You’re not supposed to detain them. Australia flouted those rules: stuck them not only in detention but in detention in this faraway island, where there was, you know, an inhospitable population around them and no prospect of a normal life.”
The United Nations has criticised Australia’s tough immigration policies and approach in intercepting and detaining boats, as have numerous international human rights agencies.