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Issue #1735      June 15, 2016

Manus closure before election?

A directions hearing in the PNG Supreme Court, on June 6 has opened the way for explicit orders to close the Manus detention centre and release all the detainees to be handed down before the Australian election.

A rally earlier this year in Sydney in support of the release of asylum seekers in detention. (Photo: Anna Pha)

At the directions hearing in the Ben Lomai case representing over 700 of the Manus detainees, the Chief Justice, Sir Salamo Injia, ordered that the Namah case, which found that the Manus detention centre was unlawful, be combined with the Lomai case, which seeks orders for the enforcement of constitutional rights on behalf of the detainees themselves.

It is expected that all detainees, who are, or who have been, on Manus, will be represented by the June 16 hearing.

The decision opens the way for possible “consequential orders” to the finding that Manus was unlawful, to be given as early as June 16, at the next directions hearing.

The “consequential orders” may include explicit orders for the closure of the detention centre and for the release of all detainees into the custody of the Australian government.

In any case, a full bench Supreme Court hearing has been set for June 30, two days before the Australian federal election.

Meanwhile the April ruling that the detention centre is unlawful has placed a very large question mark over what authority Broadspectrum and Wilson’s security actually has over the detainees still being held at the detention centre.

“The situation is not sustainable and the confusion has seen increasing tensions inside the detention centre,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

PNG police are now placed inside the detention centre to provide a fig leaf for Wilson’s security. It has become routine for PNG police to arrest detainees on the whim of Wilson Security guards, who are no longer sure of their power to assault and imprison detainees inside the detention centre with impunity.

It has also created an Orwellian use of language. Detainees are now called “residents”, while the “compounds” have become “areas” – the former Oscar and Delta compounds are now called East Area.

As the numbers of people found to be refugees has risen, the division between compounds housing asylum seekers and refugees inside the detention centre has broken down.

Power cuts have made existing in the hot, humid conditions intolerable.

The conditions for food have also deteriorated. With hundreds of people now being fed in one compound, (Oscar and Delta mess together in Oscar) people have been in queues for up to an hour. Bad smelling chicken is being served for two meals each day.

“For almost three years the asylum seekers and refugees have endured the worst imaginable conditions that Australia, Broadspectrum and Wilson’s could throw at them – and for all that time Manus has been unlawful, as well as brutal,” said Rintoul.

“It is two months since the PNG Supreme Court ruled that the agreement between Australian and PNG is unlawful. The Australian government is simply delaying the inevitable and revealing the contempt it has for the rule of law. Manus must be closed, and all the asylum seekers and refugees brought to the Australian mainland.”

Solidarity message

This is what solidarity looks like … a message from Manus Island refugees to the PNG student movement.

Dear Students,

We are refugees or detainees from Manus Island detention centre. We are writing in solidarity with PNG students and our friends who lost their lives during their peaceful protest [in Port Moresby].

We are very aware of the corruption issues in PNG. Billions of dollars have been given to the PNG government by Australia to run the Manus detention centre. That money has not been used for the people of Manus or PNG, but has been used to deny our liberty and keep refugees illegally imprisoned.

We have a common fight against corrupt government in PNG and Australia, and a common fight for freedom from tyranny.

We condemn police shooting of peaceful protesters – our human rights have also been denied.

We have also experienced this kind [of brutality] and have lost two of our friends killed because of their fight for liberty.

We are still fighting for our freedom and we will not give up, remember that you can’t obtain your freedom or achieve your goal freely, you must sacrifice for it. We won’t give up.

Manus detainees (108 signatures)

Next article – Treaty talks in Victoria

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