700 Manus Asylum Seekers Launch Legal Challenge

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

High Court asked to force government to move them to Australia

Exclusive by the National Reporting Team's Natasha Robinson and Sam Clark

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, May 4, 2016) – More than 700 asylum seekers held on Manus Island have launched legal action calling on the Federal Government to immediately move them to Australia.

The application for an urgent injunction was filed with the High Court on Wednesday by human rights barrister Jay Williams.

It follows last week's decision in the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court which ruled that the Manus Island detention centre breached the country's constitution.

The group of 757 asylum seekers is also seeking an order from the court preventing the Australian Government from moving them to Nauru.

The group allege that both the Australian and PNG governments have committed "gross" human rights breaches including forcible detention, torture and degrading treatment and false imprisonment.

[PIR editor’s note: On May 4, 2016 RNZI reported that ‘Papua New Guinea's Member of Parliament for Manus Island says restrictions on asylum seekers in the island's offshore processing facility have been relaxed following the Supreme Court's ruling that their detention is illegal. ... The MP Ronny Knight says the detainees are enjoying more freedom in and out of the facility.’]

A solicitor for the group, Mathew Byrnes, also called for a royal commission into the operation of the Manus Island centre.

"In addition to the orders being sought from the High Court in these applications, we are of the view that there is an urgent need for an inquiry or a royal commission in relation to the arrangements," Mr Byrnes said.

Mr Byrnes said any inquiry should be headed by retired High Court justice Michael Kirby.

The asylum seekers allege that following the Rudd government's announcement in July 2013 that no asylum seeker arriving by boat would be settled in Australia they were forcibly deported to Papua New Guinea by Australian Government officials working with their PNG counterparts.

They allege their detention on Manus Island constitutes arbitrary and indefinite detention under international law.

The group also allege that negligence contributed to the death of Reza Berati, who was killed during a riot at the centre in February 2014, as well as the asylum seekers being exposed to threats of death and cannibalism and instances of grievous bodily harm.

As part of their claim against the Federal Government, the group is seeking to be sent to Australia so that their refugee claims can be immediately assessed, as well as damages and legal costs.

A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the Department did not comment on matters that are before the courts.

The matter is listed to be heard again on May 23.

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