Australia migrant camp in PNG ‘illegal’

Handout photo showing six wooden huts on Manus in October 2012Image copyright
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Image caption

Access to the Manus Island camp by outside observers is extremely restricted

Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court has ruled that the detention of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island is unconstitutional.

Australia sends asylum seekers to the Manus Island detention centre under its offshore processing policy.

The five judges on the Supreme Court’s bench ruled this breached section 42 of Papua New Guinea’s constitution, which guarantees personal liberty.

The court said “all steps” should be taken to end the “illegal” detention.

Currently around 850 men are held on the island, around half of whom have been judged genuine refugees.

‘Breach of rights’

Section 42 of Papua New Guinea’s constitution guarantees personal liberty for all people, except in defined circumstances relating to crime, illegal immigration and quarantine.

Papua New Guinea’s government had amended section 42 of the constitution in 2014, adding a paragraph that allowed for “holding a foreign national under arrangements made by Papua New Guinea with another country”.

But the court ruled this amendment was unconstitutional, as it did not meet a requirement to respect “the rights and dignity of mankind”.

It said that because the asylum seekers and refugees had not voluntarily entered Papua New Guinea, the situation of illegal immigration did not apply to them.

“The detention of the asylum seekers on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea … is unconstitutional and illegal,” it said.

“Both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of the asylum seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island and the continued breach of the asylum seekers’ or transferees’ constitutional and human rights.”

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