Brutal truth of Australia’s detention regime can’t be written off. Not even for $70m

Brutal truth of Australia’s detention regime can’t be written off. Not even for $70m

by Ben Doherty – The Guardian – 16 June 2017

The Australian government was prepared to pay out to stop the shame of Manus Island being aired in court. But the ultimate cost is borne by the refugees and asylum seekers who have had their lives ruined.

This is settlement, but no solution.

The announcement that the Australian government has agreed to pay $70m in compensation to 1,905 refugees and asylum seekers illegally held in offshore immigration detention on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island will bring a measure of comfort to those held in that place – in the words of one refugee still held there, “a little bit of justice”.

The indefinite confinement of 900 men continues after four years, with no definitive way out yet apparent.

Eight months after a much-vaunted deal with the US to take refugees from the Australian detention camps on Manus and Nauru was announced, not a single person has been resettled. Even if the US does take some refugees, Australia concedes it can never resettle all of those who remain under its offshore bailiwick.

It is alleged the government agreed to settle the class action, and to compensate 1,905 refugees and asylum seekers held on Manus, in order to avoid the scrutiny that an open court hearing would bring: that the government will pay any amount of money, contort itself to any legal sophistry, to keep unexamined what it is doing in those secret islands.

The Australian government, through the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, contends its settlement was a “prudent” act, designed to head off potentially far greater costs. It was settled with the condition that the government does not admit liability, and Dutton said it “strongly refutes and denies the claims made in these proceedings”.

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Manus Island: Why asylum seekers sued the Commonwealth

Manus Island: Why asylum seekers sued the Commonwealth

By Emma Younger – ABC News – 16 June 2017

The Commonwealth has agreed to pay $70 million in compensation to more than 1,900 asylum seekers who spent time on Manus Island between 2012 and 2016.

It has agreed to an in-principle settlement of the case brought by the asylum seekers, which was set to begin in the Victorian Supreme Court today, in a case which had been years in the making.

Expected to run for six months, the case would have examined conditions in detention in a way that up until now had not been possible, due to strict access restrictions.

Why were asylum seekers suing?

The asylum seekers alleged the Commonwealth breached its duty of care by holding them in conditions which did not meet Australian standards and caused them physical and psychological harm.

They also claimed they were falsely imprisoned after PNG’s Supreme Court ruled their detention was illegal as it breached the right to personal liberty in the country’s constitution.

They also alleged the Commonwealth knew they were likely to suffer and deliberately disregarded their rights and breached international conventions.

The group was also suing security companies G4S and Transfield which were contracted to run the processing centre.

They alleged the Commonwealth and the centre’s operators failed to make sure there was an adequate supply of food, water, shelter, medical treatment, personal hygiene products and security to ensure the asylum seekers were protected from outsiders trying to gain entry or other detainees considered dangerous.

Included in the allegations were that:

  • Detainees were at times provided with food contaminated by worms, maggots, flies other insects, human hair, teeth or sweat
  • Detainees often had to queue for hours to receive meals each day
  • Detainees had to request toilet paper on an as-needs basis
  • Detainees seeking medical treatment routinely waited three days or more for a medical appointment, regardless of their condition
  • The medical centre did not have a permanent or full-time psychiatrist despite 30 per cent of detainees presenting with some form of mental health issue
  • In a number of cases, authorities refused to transfer detainees to Port Moresby or Australia for further medical treatment
  • G4S did not adequately respond to reports the perimeter fence was inadequate to stop asylum seekers attempting suicide by drowning themselves in the sea; and
  • Detainees had limited access to condoms despite a number having sexually transmitted diseases.

In its response to the asylum seekers’ claims, the Commonwealth denied many of the accusations and argued that duty of care was delegated to an operational manager from the PNG Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority.

It said the detention centre was under the control and management of that officer during the relevant period.

G4S and Transfield were also fighting the case.

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Manus – compensation may be paid

Manus Island: Government could pay compensation to almost 2,000 detainees over treatment
By Sarah Whyte, Eric Tlozek, Lin Evlin
ABC News – 14 June 2017

Almost 2,000 men detained by the Federal Government on Manus Island may receive compensation for mistreatment, in what legal experts say would be the largest human rights settlement in Australian legal history.

Key points:

  • Almost 2,000 Manus Island detainees involved in class action
  • Legal experts expect it to settle, with Government to pay significant compensation
  • Lawyers say dozens of compensation cases against Immigration Department settled out of court since 2015

The class action against the Immigration Department is scheduled to commence in the Victorian Supreme Court tomorrow but it is predicted to settle, rather than proceed to a six-month trial.

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Greg Barns, a Hobart-based lawyer, has been advising another class action for 731 men on Manus Island.

He is certain the case will also settle and he estimated the men could receive about $150,000 each.

“The class action in Papua New Guinea involves really a question of false imprisonment,” he said.

“What this means … [is] that for every day they have been kept unlawfully they are entitled to compensation.”

Documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request lodged by the Australian Lawyer’s Alliance stated that between 1999 and 2011, the Immigration Department paid $23.4 million in compensation to people who had been held in Australian-run immigration detention centres.

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