Culture

PNG Has Ruled That Detention On Manus Island Is Illegal, So What Happens Now?

PNG Supreme Court finds that detaining asylum seekers on Manus Island is "unconstitutional".

UPDATE: The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea has just announced that the Manus Island detention centre will close. The Australian government is now required to make “alternative arrangements” for the 850 people being held on the island. A timeframe for the closure hasn’t been specified yet, but Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said this afternoon: “As I stated recently at the at the Australian Press Club, we did not anticipate the asylum seekers to be kept as long as they have at the Manus centre.”

This afternoon the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea has found that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island is illegal. The court ruled that holding over 850 people on Manus, “breached the right to personal liberty in the PNG constitution”.

This is huge news to those who oppose Australia’s strict asylum seeker policy (half of the people detained on Manus Island were found to be refugees) particularly as Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court has ordered that the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments must begin dismantling the process immediately.

It’s hard to know how these governments will actually do this and what these arrangements will turn out to be. Recently the operators of the detention centre have attempted to move some refugees into a ‘transit centre’ (Fairfax says that only 74 were offered this move, and only eight of more than 1000 asylum seekers have been resettled in PNG). Some refugees are allowed to leave the centre “under certain conditions” but even then they must be driven out by bus, because the detention centre is in the middle of a naval base. In short: the process of moving people out of detention centres has been very muddled and contingent on shifting bureaucracy up until this point.

Those with unsuccessful applications for asylum are told that they must go back to their country of origin. Last month the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea said of Manus Island: “we cannot hold the refugees there forever”. The Supreme Court’s decision proposes that detaining both refugees and asylum seekers is illegal, due to the restrictions on their movements.

It has been widely established that Manus Island is a dangerous place, where people who are already traumatised face abuse, violence, heavy restrictions and inadequete medical facilities. The United Nations have even compared the conditions there to “torture”. It’s still unclear what will come of this decision (and if it’ll just lead to a dodgy classification of what a ‘detention centre’ is) and if the ruling will also extend to the detention centre on Nauru.

Feature image via Unaligned Individuals/Pozible.