Australia labelled 'rogue state' for Manus deportations

4:21 pm on 26 April 2017

Australia has been labelled 'a rogue state' by lawyers troubled by the pending deportation of a Manus Island asylum seeker from Papua New Guinea.

Azzam el Sheikh committed self-harm to avoid previous attempts to send him back to Lebanon, where he claims his life and his family will be in danger if he returns.

Exactly one year since the PNG Supreme court ruled the detention of asylum seekers was unconstitutional, on 26 April, Mr El Sheikh, could be deported, according to refugee advocates.

Azzam el Sheikh in a Lorengau police cell.

Azzam el Sheikh in a Lorengau police cell. Photo: Azzam el Sheikh

A spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance the barrister, Greg Barns, said by deporting him Australia would be breaking international law and committing what is known as refoulement.

"Australia has an obligation under the United Nations conventions in relation to refugees, not to return a person to a situation where they may be tortured or subjected to cruel and unusual punishment or face the risk of death," said Mr Barns.

"There have been quite a number of people that the Australian government has forcibly deported who've either been killed on return to Afghanistan or been detained and subjected to torture," he said.

"When a person is extremely unwell, as Azzam is ... and is clearly not in a fit mental or physical state to travel, then it's certainly in breach of Australia's obligations to force a person in those circumstances onto a plane."

Greg Barns

Greg Barns Photo: ABC - courtesy of Sensible Films

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the government of PNG had decided asylum seekers found not to be refugees must depart.

But Mr Barns said the refugee determination process on Manus Island was deeply flawed.

He said a recent report by the Australian Senate supported his conclusion that the decision to deport Mr el Sheikh was Australia's.

"The Australian government has been beastly careless for a number of years now, about the rights of individuals it deports," said Mr Barns.

"It's yet another example of how Australia for the last two decades has become a rogue state when it comes to the treatment of refugees and when it comes to the treatment of asylum seekers and deportation."

The first two attempts to move Mr El Sheikh from Manus to Port Moresby were thwarted by the asylum seeker's physical resistance and acts of self harm.

Badly injured, Mr El Sheikh was tossed into a police cell where he went on hunger strike and appealed for clemency from the Australian government on Youtube.

Azzam el Sheikh in a Lorengau police cell.

Azzam el Sheikh in a Lorengau police cell. Photo: Azzam el Sheikh

The Refugee Action Collective's, Margaret Sinclair, said Mr El Sheikh was in no condition to resist the third attempt.

"There was maybe a couple of dozen different security forces escorting Azzam onto the plane and by that stage because he had 12 days of hunger strike and a number of injuries he couldn't make any resistance," said Ms Sinclair.

"It's a very strange thing to have people in jail when they haven't been charged with any offences. That was actually the basis of the Papua New Guinea court decision. Detaining people in a jail without charge contravenes the constitution of Papua New Guinea."

Ms Sinclair said Mr El Sheikh had been in Port Moresby's Bomana prison since 11 April and had not been given access to a lawyer or treatment for a suspected broken ankle and broken ribs.

She said it would be unethical for any airline to transport Mr el Sheikh out of Papua New Guinea.

The swollen left ankle of Azzam el Sheikh.

The swollen left ankle of Azzam el Sheikh. Photo: Margaret Sinclair

The Manus Island detainee, Naji, had been in contact with Mr El Sheikh and said his friend had been left in prison to rot.

"His health is getting worse and especially his foot. He hasn't got any medicine yet and still without showering and in the same clothing since they took him from here," said Naji.

"The doctor in the prison said he needs hospital and I think a couple of days ago the Red Cross visited him and they wanted to take him to hospital but they couldn't," he said.

"He doesn't need any money ... he just asked to get protection ... All I can say about Azzam is he will be in danger if they send him back by force."

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