CANBERRA -- Around 30 asylum seekers on Manus Island have voluntarily returned to their home countries, or are in the process of doing so, after being offered payments of up to $US20,000 from the Australian Federal Government in recent weeks.
Australia has offered large payments to asylum seekers in immigration detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru since 2014, as incentives to return home and thus reduce numbers in those facilities. In 2016, it was reported this payment had been doubled to $20,000 as pressures increased on Manus, including the decision of the Papua New Guinea supreme court that detention on Manus was unconstitutional and that the centre must close.
Last month, PNG police had begun to deport asylum seekers from the Manus facility. On Wednesday, Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian man on Manus, told The Huffington Post Australia around 30 people had agreed to return home in recent weeks, receiving payments of up to $US20,000.
"In the past week a lot of people from Manus prison have gone back to their countries of origin. At the beginning of the week 10 people went back to Nepal, including the young man who they tried to deport last month. There are now only two Nepalese people in Manus," Boochani said in a message.
"Last month five Nepalese went back and another one was deported. Then, this week, four Iranian men went back, one of them after experiencing solitary confinement for a long time and becoming seriously mentally and physically unwell after suffering here. In addition, three people from Lebanon and 12 people from Bangladesh have signed to go back and they will be transferred in the next few days."
That's 29 people who have left, or who have agreed to leave, in just the last few weeks, not including the five Nepalese men last month. When asked if the men had received payments, Boochani said some had received $US15,000 and others had received $US20,000. In a statement, a spokesperson from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection did not confirm that payments had been made in this particular case, but confirmed that payments are available in such circumstances.
"The Government of Papua New Guinea has publicly stated that residents of the Manus Regional Processing Centre who have been found not to be refugees have no lawful basis to remain in the country and must depart. Where people decide to return to home voluntarily, assistance is available to help them return and re-establish their lives," the spokesperson said.
"The amount of assistance provided to people who voluntarily return home is based on their individual circumstances and is determined on a case by case basis."
Boochani has formerly said staff on Manus have been encouraging asylum seekers who have received a rejection of their refugee status to go back to their home country.
"All of these men signed by their own hand but the big problem is that all of them were under pressure and threatened by immigration for a long time," he said on Wednesday.
"Still they are putting pressure on people who are with negative status."