Manus Allegedly Lacks System To Process Asylum Seekers

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Group claims Australia evasive on number of refugees offshore

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, June 24, 2013) – Human rights groups say there is no processing system in place for asylum seekers on Manus Island and the process on Nauru could take up to five years. People on the islands as a result of Australia’s new refugee policy are not included in its published refugee statistics. In a week when the Nauru Supreme Court denied a claim by refugees that their detention was unconstitutional, refugee advocates say Australia is neglecting its responsibilities and refugees could self harm.

Alex Perrottet reports.

There was some good news this week for refugees on Manus Island. The Australian and Papua New Guinea governments capitulated to pressure to move children and their parents to Australia’s Christmas Island, where the group of 70 is more likely to be processed as refugees. Back on Manus Island, human rights groups say conditions are basic, and there is no sign of any processing system for those who remain. Alex Perrottet spoke to the Director of Australia’s Asylum Centre Resource Centrem, Jana Favero.

"Some processing has started to happen on Nauru, but it hasn’t started happening on Manus Island yet. That pretty much means that their claims haven’t started to be heard, so they haven’t been assessed as to whether or not they are refugees," she said.

It’s hard to get information of people currently in Nauru and PNG as asylum seekers there are not counted in Australia’s published statistics. Jana Favero says the government is not being upfront.

"They reported saying they don’t report on those numbers because they’re in offshore facilities, they’re not in the Australian detention network. Whereas other people in the department have said yes we can get the figures if we call them but they don’t make them publicly available so there’s misinformation coming from the department as to why those figures aren’t available."

On Nauru, Australian journalists say they can’t have access to the detention centre. Only the BBC has reported from the facility, but they only spoke to an Australian guard who said conditions were dire, and detainees were self-harming. A group of 12 people there were charged with rioting but their case was stopped by an action of habeas corpus, brought by Australian human rights lawyer Julian Burnside. During the week the Supreme Court judge ruled against the application to find their detention unconstitutional based on an exception allowing it for the sake of imminent removal. But Julian Burnside said that could take up to five years and he welcomed the judge’s decision to revisit the issue should the processing system lag.

"Most of the people being detained on Nauru are people who have suffered torture or trauma, people who have escaped persecution, people who have risked their lives to get to a place of safety and now they are told, in effect, you’ve got virtually no hope. Now that’s going to drive people crazy, that’s why people start harming themselves," Burnside said.

Kate Schuetze, the Pacific researcher for Amnesty International, says courts in PNG are still looking at an action brought by the parliament’s opposition MPs against the detention centre on Manus Island. She says if a similar action was brought for people on Manus, there could be a different decision.

"Nauru’s a very small island, and I understand that there is only one Supreme Court judge who heard that decision, whereas if it went to the Supreme Court in Papua New Guinea it may be heard by several judges so there is definitely that potential to raise similar issues," she said.

But the remoteness of Manus Island and the difficulties getting there means those left detained there have very little hope of movement, and advocates say they fear for their mental health.

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