Australian judge awards ‘fair’ $70m to Manus Island asylum detainees

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Manus Island prison … as reported by Leah Harding about Iranian filmmaker Behrouz Boochani and the docomentary Chauka: Please Tell Us The Time at #AJNewsgrid. Al Jazeera video

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

Australia will pay A$70 million (US$56 million) to asylum seekers detained in Papua New Guinea, after a senior judge has approved a major compensation package, reports Al Jazeera.

The state of Victoria’s Supreme Court awarded the funds yesterday to more than 1300 refugees held at a centre on Manus Island between November 2012 and December 2014, on the grounds of illegal detention and negligent treatment.

Manus Island detainees … an Australian outsourced centre of “inhumanity” in Papua New Guinea. Image: Green-Left

The remainder of the almost 2000 detainees from that period have been granted an extra two and a half weeks to join the class action and register for payment if they wish to.

Justice Cameron Macauley declared the decision, which is believed to be the nation’s largest human rights settlement, “fair and reasonable”.

Australia offered the compensation agreement in June, more than three years after lawyers initiated the case brought against the government and two service providers operating on the island.

-Partners-

Officials have previously declared the deal “prudent”, but denied wrongdoing.

Tough policy on asylum seekers
Australian policy dictates that asylum seekers attempting to reach the country by boat are transferred to detention facilities in the Pacific Ocean on Manus, or the island of Nauru; which was not involved in the litigation.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Nick McKim, immigration spokesperson for the Australian Green Party, said: “The government of Australia wants to appear politically tough on refugees and tough on people seeking asylum.”

As a result, political leaders have a “political imperative” to treat the detainees inhumanely, he said, and “that’s exactly what they’ve done.”

The centre on Manus is due to close next month, following a PNG Supreme Court ruling last year that declared the holding of people on the island was unconstitutional.

The 803 men currently detained will be moved elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, or relocated to third countries, according to government officials.

Lawyers representing the refugees who generated the claim said they are seeking to secure the compensation payment before the centre shuts.

“These detainees came to Australia seeking refuge, compassion and protection, which were all denied to them by successive Commonwealth governments,” said Rory Walsh of the law firm Slater and Gordon.

“Today, the group has finally been delivered justice through the Australian legal system and the Supreme Court of Victoria. The result … will allow meaningful compensation to be paid to group members much more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.”

Distribution of the funds will be overseen by the court, with another hearing scheduled for October to determine when payments will begin.

The genesis of an Australian offshore detention centre. Graphic: Al Jazeera
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