The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea has announced that the Manus Island detention centre will be closed down.
The announcement came after Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court yesterday found the centre to be unconstitutional.
In a statement today, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said he had considered the ruling and welcomed the outcome.
“Respecting this ruling, Papua New Guinea will immediately ask the Australian Government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers currently held at the Regional Processing Centre,” he said.
The Department of Immigration has been contacted for comment.
Mr O’Neill said the closure of the centre would have a “negative effect on the local economy on Manus” but the PNG government would seek to minimise the impact on local workers.
Mr O’Neill said asylum seekers recognised as genuine refugees were welcome to live in Papua New Guinea and be a part of society.
However, he said it was “clear that several of these refugees do not want to settle in Papua New Guinea,” which was “their decision”.
In response to Mr O’Neill’s statement, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton issued a statement saying he thanked Mr O’Neill “for PNG’s continued support” in stopping asylum seeker boats.
“As I have said, and as the Australian government has consistently acted, we will work with our PNG partners to address the issues raised by the Supreme Court of PNG,” his statement said.
“It is also the case that the government has not resiled from its position that people who have attempted to come illegally by boat to Australia and who are now in the Manus facility will not be settled in Australia.
“We will continue discussions with the PNG Government to resolve these matters.”
The case decided yesterday was brought by former opposition leader Belden Namah in 2013. The initial case was rejected, before being relodged in 2014.
The lawyer acting for Mr Namah, Loani Henao, told SBS that the “decision is that Australia and PNG are to take steps forthwith not to breach further the constitutional rights of the asylum seekers”.
“Section 42 of PNG’s constitution, it guarantees freedom of persons entering the country, including foreigners. Unless the foreigner has broken some law of this country, then they will be subjected to detention or placed in custody,” he said.
“The asylum seekers that have come in here are not of their own volition, but at the Australia and PNG governments’ own arrangement.”
Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs said the Australian government was fully responsible for the Manus detention centre and any claims otherwise were “disingenuous”.
“The Australian government has tried to wash it’s hands of the conditions on Manus Island on the grounds that this is subject to the sovereignty of Papua New Guinea,” Professor Triggs told SBS.
“This is an entirely disingenous argument. The detention centre is set-up, paid for and controlled by the Australian government and on the basis of international law they are full responsible for it.”
Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power welcomed the announcement in a statement and called for an urgent rethink of Australia’s immigration detention policies.
“With the Manus Island ‘solution’ and Australia’s offshore processing system crumbling under legal challenge and human despair, it’s time to set politics aside and put humanity first,” he said.
“Australia can bring those we sent to Manus back to be resettled or have their claims assessed here. Those already recognised as refugees can be quickly resettled and the asylum claims of the remainder processed as should have been done three years ago.
“The collapse of Manus Island detention provides the Turnbull government with the opportunity to end the perversity of our current policies which have caused our neighbours to act illegally and inflicted immense pain on those stuck in an interminable limbo.”
Earlier today, Mr Dutton confirmed a 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker was in a serious condition on Nauru after setting himself alight.
He said the man would be airlifted out of Nauru for medical treatment but said his outlook was “not very good at all.”
Refugee advocates reportedly claimed other asylum seekers had attempted to self-harm by swallowing washing powder.
“If people think that through action of self-harm or harming a member of their family that is going to result in them coming to Australia and staying here permanently, that will not be the outcome,” the minister said.
* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 or follow @LifelineAust @OntheLineAus @kidshelp @beyondblue @headspace_aus @ReachOut_AUS on Twitter.
Read Peter O’Neill’s full statement: