Fate of illegally detained asylum seekers in PNG in the balance
The fate of 850 asylum seekers and refugees detained illegally on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island hangs in the balance.
The fate of 850 asylum seekers and refugees detained illegally on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island is uncertain after a PNG court struck a blow to Canberra's policy of sending its asylum seekers abroad.
On Tuesday, PNG's Supreme Court declared their detention in PNG was unconstitutional, and on Wednesday, the Prime Minister Peter O'Neill announced the centre would be closed.
Jamie Tahana reports.
The ruling has left the governments of both Papua New Guinea and Australia with a complicated set of challenges as they try and work out what to do with the hundreds of men detained on Manus Island.
Australia's immigration minister Peter Dutton says his government anticipated this ruling, and is working with Port Moresby and other countries to find resettlement options.
But an Australian refugee lawyer, David Manne, says past attempts to resettle in third countries -- including Cambodia, where a 40 million dollar deal fell apart after only five people were resettled, and an attempted deal with Kyrgyzstan, a country which the government says Australians shouldn't travel to -- have failed.
DAVID MANNE: The future remains completely shrouded in uncertainty because the government doesn't have a proper plan in place for 850 men who are trapped in Manus Island, who the court has said must be freed.
Papua New Guinea's high commissioner to Australia, Charles Lepani, says talks between the two governments will be held early next week, but he says the centre will close and that it is up to Australia to work out what to do with the people there.
Mr Dutton says Australia's other detention centre on Nauru has the capacity to hold them.
A former Nauru president, Sprent Dabwido, who signed the agreement to reopen the centre there in 2012, agrees.
SPREND DABWIDO: The actual capacity of Nauru is to fit comfortably 1,500 people. Right now I think we have only about 300 people on the island. But yeah, if you bring in the 850-900 we should still be able to hold them comfortably.
But the centre on Nauru has its own problems. It's been plagued with allegations of abuse and regular protests and just this week, six asylum seekers attempted to commit suicide.
One man remains in a critical condition after he set himself on fire in protest.
Sprent Dabwido says if Nauru were to take those from Manus Island, Canberra would need to find another solution as they cannot be warehoused on the island forever.
SPRENT DABWIDO: If you leave them on an island with no hope, with no final destination, no resolve, then these issues will come up. They want to move somewhere else and because the Australian government is preventing them from getting an answer to that, then all sorts of problems have come up.
Despite the lack of any clear plan, Peter Dutton remains adamant on one thing: the asylum seekers will not be allowed into Australia.
PETER DUTTON: I've been very clear and I repeat it again today: the men off Manus Island will not be settling permanently in Australia and we'll work with the PNG government to help them return home or back to third countries.
But David Manne, who is the executive director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, says Australia's hardline approach of not accepting any asylum seeker who arrives by boat is unravelling, and a solution needs to be found.
DAVID MANNE: At the moment what we see with the policies of offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, are policies that are chaotic, that are unravelling, and are causing tremedous human suffering. They are unsustainable in either legal, moral, financial or practical terms and must be brought to an end at some point. It can't go on like this.
However, the policy is unlikely to change, as going into this year's election, both of Australia's main political parties support offshore detention, a policy that has popular electoral support.
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