Papua New Guinea (PNG) is a country of around seven million people to Australia’s north, which cooperates with Australia to process the claims of asylum seekers intercepted at sea. Manus Province, the smallest of PNG’s 22 provinces, hosts the asylum processing centre on Manus Island, first established in 2001 as part of the Pacific Solution.
In September 2012, Australia and PNG signed an MoU providing for the transfer of asylum seekers from Australia to PNG. Processing began in November 2012. In July 2013, the two countries entered into the Regional Resettlement Arrangement (RRA), an overarching framework that provides for the processing of asylum claims and permanent resettlement of refugees in PNG. The RRA is supported by a second MoU, signed in August 2013. Under the RRA, asylum seekers intercepted at sea by Australian officials are transferred to PNG and detained at a detention centre on Manus Island. The RRA is paid for entirely by Australia.
The Manus Island centre has experienced ongoing unrest. In February 2014, Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed at the centre. Mr Barati sought asylum in Australia in July 2013 but was transferred to PNG under the bilateral agreement. Two men were convicted in PNG’s Supreme Court of killing Mr Barati and were sentenced to 10 years in jail. Another asylum seeker has died due to inadequate medical care. A 2013 United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) report said conditions for people on Manus Island were harsh and inadequate for some, and expressed particular concern for children.
In February 2015, a class action was brought in the Supreme Court of Victoria on behalf of people detained at the Manus Island detention centre between 2012 and 2014. The class action claims compensation from the Australian Government and the then operators of the Manus Island centre, G4S and Transfield Services, for failure to take reasonable care of detainees.
In April 2016, the PNG Supreme Court ruled that the detention of asylum seekers at the Manus Island centre was illegal and unconstitutional. The Court held that the detention of asylum seekers was contrary to their right of personal liberty enshrined in section 42 of the Constitution of PNG. The Court ordered the governments of Australia and PNG to take all necessary steps to cease and prevent the detention of asylum seekers at the centre. According to PNG’s High Commissioner to Australia, the ruling also had the effect of ‘annulling’ the 2013 agreement between Australia and PNG.
As at May 2016, there were 905 men detained at the Manus Island detention centre. About half of the men have been recognised as refugees, while the others are a mix of asylum seekers awaiting processing and asylum seekers whose claims for refugee status have been rejected.
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Last updated 5 May 2016