POLITICS

Manus Island Refugees' Morale Low As Court Cases Drag On

"The Australian government is keeping us here as hostages and I don't know why the PNG Supreme Court is wasting time."

03/08/2016 12:43 PM AEST | Updated August 3, 2016 15:41
Reuters
Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in 2014

Asylum seekers in Australia's detention centre on Manus Island have accused the government of keeping them "as hostages", as a court case over the future of the facility drags on.

The Manus Island centre, in Papua New Guinea, was declared as unconstitutional and illegal by the PNG Supreme Court in April. The court ordered Australia to immediately begin working to move the detainees -- which at that point, numbered 850 men -- out of the facility. The Manus facility was soon converted to an "open centre" where asylum seekers are not imprisoned but let out into the community to come and go as they please, but the centre remains open and the court has asked Australia to provide firm timelines on when the former detainees will be resettled elsewhere.

In a decision on Tuesday, the court ordered that Australia present a plan to resettle the men currently held on Manus -- 854 men as of June 30, according to the latest Department of Immigration and Border Protection report -- be outlined on Thursday.

"The Australian Government is aware of the matter, but is not a party to the proceedings," the department told The Huffington Post Australia in a statement.

"Beyond this, it would not be appropriate to provide further comment as the matter remains before the court."

Getty Images
Protests in Melbourne following the April ruling of the PNG court that the Manus centre was illegal

Ben Lomai, a lawyer for some of the Manus detainees who is seeking compensation for the men's detention, claimed the Australian government was trying to drag out the legal proceedings for as long as possible.

"My clients are concerned it has been going on and on without any end to it," he told HuffPost Australia.

"From day one last year, when I filed [his case for compensation for the men], I sent all the documents to the Australian high commission, and there has been no response from the government. As I understand it, they may claim immunity, that they can't be subject to another country's jurisdiction. This might be the case tomorrow, that they might claim immunity."

Lomai said the case was being advanced "piecemeal", as lawyers for the asylum seekers waited for responses.

"We don't know what happens next. The way things are going on, it will take a long while. We have two separate enforcement applications and that hasn't helped. Its very unfair on our clients. What more time do we require to resolve the matter? It will go on and on forever," he said.

"The Australian government must step up. That is the whole reason this has been tied up, because at the moment they're keeping their hands closed, they're delaying it. From my perspective as a lawyer for the asylum seekers, I'm blaming the Australian government, they're not coming up straight. The court has made a decision."

Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian journalist who has been on Manus since 2013, told HuffPost Australia that the men on the island had largely given up hope of a successful outcome for them.

"We do not expect the court to make a final decision on Thursday. The people in the centre are really tired by this court case. They once made a decision that this prison is illegal and we expected we would get freedom soon but the Australian government has not accepted it," he said.

"I'm sure the Australian government is trying to delay the result and is playing with the court. It's clear that the Australian government does not have any program for settling people in PNG and are only trying to waste time."

He said morale inside the centre was low.

"People in Manus prison are so frustrated and depressed. The Australian government is clearly committing a crime and keeping us here as hostages and I don't know why the PNG Supreme Court is wasting time," Boochani said.

"The people in Manus prison don't trust in the courts because of this bad experience."

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