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Commission welcomes PNG Court ruling

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees
Rows of tents for asylum seekers on Manus Island. Source: Department of Immigration and Border Protection, reproduced under a CC BY 2.0 license.

The Commission welcomes the ruling by the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea that the detention of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal.

The Court has ordered Australia and Papua New Guinea to take immediate steps to end the detention of asylum seekers.

All five judges unanimously ruled that detention in the facility violates the right to personal liberty, as guaranteed in Papua New Guinea’s constitution.

“The Court’s decision affirms the Commission’s long-standing concern that the prolonged and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea may lead to breaches of our obligations under international law,” said President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs.

“This ruling is further confirmation that Australia’s detention policies are increasingly out of step with international norms,” she said.

The Commission – along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Committee against Torture – have all expressed concern about the arbitrary detention of refugees and asylum seekers in Regional Processing Centres.

Numerous studies, including the Commission’s The Forgotten Children Report, have shown that prolonged detention has negative impacts on the health and wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers.

While the Commission would welcome efforts to release people from detention in Papua New Guinea, the future of these men remains profoundly uncertain.

As at 31 March, there were 395 people in detention on Manus Island who had been found to be refugees.

UNHCR has previously stated that the sustainable integration of these refugees into the Papua New Guinea community “will raise formidable challenges and protection concerns.”

The Commission also holds ongoing concerns for the safety of same-sex attracted refugees and asylum seekers who have been sent to Papua New Guinea, where same-sex sexual activity is criminalised.