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.

Read the full article here

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