Australia rules out settling 800 asylum seekers from PNG
SYDNEY – Australia said on Wednesday it was seeking guidance from Papua New Guinea following a court ruling that Canberra’s practice of detaining asylum seekers on PNG’s northern Manus Island was illegal, but stressed they won’t be allowed into Australia.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the more than 800 men detained on Manus would not be resettled in Australia under any circumstances, maintaining a hard-line policy that has been strongly criticised by the United Nations and human rights agencies.
“The government’s position is very clear – that is that we are not going to accept people who have sought to come to our country illegally by boat,” Dutton told reporters in Melbourne. “They will not settle permanently in our country.”
Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that the detentions breached the country’s constitution and must be stopped.
Dutton said the Manus detainees could return home or go to another country willing to accept them.
But while Australia maintains its hard-line stance, a second legal case concerning the immediate fate of the detainees on Manus Island is set to be heard by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court later this week.
Lawyers acting on behalf of nearly all the Manus Island detainees will argue that they should be taken to Australia and be compensated for being held in custody.
“Every hour that ticks past is another hour, is another day that Papua New Guinea has not abided by the Supreme Court decision – it will add to the compensation we are requesting from the Supreme Court but particularly it is about freedom for the people that have been held on Manus Island for too long,” Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, which is funding the second legal case, told Reuters.
Under Australia’s immigration laws, anyone intercepted while trying to reach the country by boat is sent for processing to camps in Nauru and Manus Island. They are never eligible to be resettled in Australia and Dutton said that stance would not change.
Against such a backdrop, many of the detainees have self-harmed, with Dutton on Wednesday confirming that a 23-year old man from Iran had set himself on fire on Nauru.
Dutton said the man would be evacuated from Nauru later on Wednesday. -Reuters