Manus Island crisis must be resolved immediately

24th Nov 2017

The Australian government is placing refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island at serious risk and must find an immediate solution to their plight, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said today.

The situation reached crisis point yesterday as Papua New Guinea (PNG) police and immigration authorities entered the camp and ordered the refugees and asylum seekers to leave, allegedly emptying drinking water tanks and destroying possessions. Video footage also appeared to show officers from PNG’s mobile squad threatening and hitting refugees with long metal poles.

ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns said the Commonwealth had an urgent obligation not to put these men at risk, and must find a safe and lasting destination for them. He said that the federal government had transported the men to Manus Island and could not just close the detention centre and ‘hope for the best’.

“The situation on Manus Island has reached crisis point,” Mr Barns said.

“Under the Work Health and Safety Act, the government has a clear obligation not to put these men at risk. The Federal Court has found that there is a duty of care owed to these men. The rule of law demands that these men are offered safety immediately. Why does the government think it is acceptable to flagrantly ignore its own laws and abandon these men?

“The men on Manus Island have always been, and remain, Australia’s responsibility,” Mr Barns said.

“The Commonwealth has transported them to the Australian-controlled detention facility on Manus and denied them any ability to protect themselves. Now closing that facility without providing a safe, secure and lasting alternative is completely unacceptable. In these circumstances, refusing the New Zealand offer to take some of the men is unconscionable.”

“The UNHCR has said that Australia has ‘created and then abandoned a humanitarian crisis’,” Mr Barns said.

“The alternative accommodation is still being constructed and is likely to take at least another couple of weeks before it will be ready for the men to live in. Abandoning these men is just not viable. The ALA agrees with the UNHCR that the Australian government must do more to find lasting solutions for these men.”

“The government pulling out of the Manus Island centre in the manner in which it has clearly puts these men at serious risk,” Mr Barns said.

“The federal government must approve the New Zealand deal immediately, and urgently move to resolve the situation for all of these men, including refugees, those who have been found not to be refugees, and those whose status is still being determined.”

“These people are Australia’s responsibility,” Mr Barns said. “They deserve certainty and an opportunity to rebuild their lives.”

Note: Mr Barns is currently an adviser to legal action being taken on behalf of the asylum seekers on Manus Island.

Tags: Asylum seekers and refugees