Commonwealth ignoring the law by evicting Manus Island refugees
2nd Aug 2017
Comcare must act immediately to ensure that the Commonwealth does not breach workplace safety laws by forcing people out of the Manus Island detention centre into unsafe, or potentially dangerous accommodation, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.
According to media reports, asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island have been seriously injured in machete attacks in Lorengau town, following efforts by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIPB) to forcefully remove them from the island’s detention centre. The reports allege that refugees remaining in the centre have been left living in buildings without power or running water, and threatened with arrest if they refuse to move.
ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns said that if the reports were accurate, the Commonwealth was ignoring its own duty of care law to these people under Australian law. He called for Comcare to investigate and act immediately.
“Reports that the Commonwealth is forcing asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island into a community where they have been attacked are greatly concerning,” Mr Barns said.
“While the ALA has consistently called for the Manus detention centre to be closed, this must be done safely. Sending people to a town where they feel unsafe, and some have been violently attacked, is completely inappropriate”.
“The Commonwealth has just months ago agreed to a landmark settlement in which asylum seekers and refugees claimed damages for personal injury and false imprisonment. This latest move indicates that the DIBP has not learned its lesson, and continues to put the lives of vulnerable people at risk” Mr Barns said.
Mr Barns said that under Australia’s Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth), the DIPB is under a duty to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of asylum seekers and refugees is not put at risk from work” it does. This obligation extends to workplaces outside of Australia.
Reports indicate that essential services such as electricity and water are being shut off, and that medical and catering services are closing down.
“Cutting off essential services in the Manus detention centre in an attempt to force asylum seekers and refugees to move into the community, where they feel unsafe and have been attacked, appears to be in direct breach of the government’s obligations under workplace law,” Mr Barns said.
“We call on Comcare, the Commonwealth’s workplace regulator, to urgently investigate this matter and ensure that the DIBP is prevented from ignoring the law. Obligations towards asylum seekers’ and refugees’ regarding their health and safety will last as long as Australia exercises control over them.
“Australia exerted its control over these people by bringing them to Papua New Guinea in the first place. According to the Federal Court, this means that they are owed a duty of care,” Mr Barns said.
“Their safety is the responsibility of the Australian government: it took on that responsibility when it forced them to go to the island. It can’t evade it now by forcing these men to live without essential services or move to an area where they are at risk. These moves are in direct conflict with the Department’s duty under Australian law,” Mr Barns said.
Mr Barns called for all all asylum seekers and refugees currently living on Manus Island to be moved to Australia or another safe destination as soon as possible.
 Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth), s19(2).
 Plaintiff s99/2016 v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  FCA 483.