Thu, Jun 15, 2017 - Page 5 News List

Canberra settles refugee case with A$70m payout

SYSTEMATIC ABUSE:The payout awarded to those who were unconstitutionally detained by the government is perhaps the largest in Australian human rights history

AFP, SYDNEY

Detainees at an Australian asylum-seeker camp in Papua New Guinea yesterday were awarded millions of dollars in compensation for “degrading and cruel” treatment, in a decision hailed as an important human rights victory.

Abuse, self-harm and mental health problems are reportedly rife in offshore processing centers, with detainees resorting to desperate protests like sewing their own lips together to raise awareness of their plight.

Yesterday’s A$70 million (US$53 million) conditional settlement, to be shared by 1,905 people who have been held on Manus Island since 2012, averted a public trial against the government and security providers Transfield and G4S.

A class action had sought damages for what claimants said was suffering due to the harsh conditions in which they were held.

It also called for a payout for false imprisonment after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled last year that holding asylum seekers on Manus Island was unconstitutional and illegal.

Law firm Slater and Gordon said they believed it was the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian history, with the defendants also agreeing to pay more than A$20 million in costs.

“The people detained on Manus Island have endured extremely hostile conditions, but they will no longer suffer in silence,” the firm’s Andrew Baker said. “While no amount of money could fully recognize the terrible conditions the detainees endured, we hope today’s settlement can begin to provide them with an opportunity to help put this dark chapter of their lives behind them.”

The Manus Island detention center opened in 2012 to hold people trying to enter Australia by boat, under a tough immigration policy that sends people offshore to be processed. They are blocked from resettling in Australia even if found to be refugees.

Conditions in the camp and another one on Nauru, in the Pacific Ocean, have been widely criticized by refugee advocates and medical professionals, with reports of maltreatment and neglect, leading to serious health problems.

Amnesty International called the decision “historic” and “a major crack in the Australian government’s crumbling system of abuse.”

“It must be a turning point towards a better solution for refugees — one that is grounded in protection, not abuse,” Amnesty Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said.

Australian Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton said the payout was not an admission of liability, but to avoid a costly six-month trial.

“In such circumstances a settlement was considered a prudent outcome for Australian taxpayers,” he said in a statement. “The commonwealth strongly refutes and denies the claims made in these proceedings. Settlement is not an admission of liability in any regard.”

Slater and Gordon lawyer Rory Walsh said the government and its contractor’s defense “was that it was the PNG [Papua New Guinean] authorities doing the imprisoning and detaining and not them.”

“The denial of liability allows the commonwealth and the defendants to run those positions in any other cases and maintain that position,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top