World View: Australia Will Pay $100K Each to Asylum Seekers in Manus Island Immigration Camp

Under Canberra's current policy, asylum-seekers arriving by boat are sent to the remote Pacific island of Nauru or Papua New Guinea's Manus Island even if they are refugees

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Australia will pay $100K each to asylum seekers in Manus Island immigration camp
  • The Manus refugees’ future is still undecided – except for those coming to the US

Australia will pay $100K each to asylum seekers in Manus Island immigration camp

Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea (AAP)
Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea (AAP)

In a major victory for activists supporting refugees and asylum seekers, Australia’s government settled a case by agreeing to pay refugees detained on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island up to AUS$150,000 (US $113,248) each. The total bill will be AUS$13.7 billion, including AUS$20 million (US$ million) for the activist law firm that brought the class action suit on behalf of 1905 refugees being detained on Manus Island.

In 2013, Australia’s prime minister Kevin Rudd announced that any asylum seeker who arrives by boat without a visa will have “no chance” of being resettled there as a refugee. Instead, they will be sent directly to neighboring Papua New Guinea and its Manus Island detention center. According to Rudd in 2013:

From now on, any asylum-seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees… If they are found to be genuine refugees they will be resettled in Papua New Guinea — an emerging economy with a strong future, a robust democracy which is also a signatory to the United Nations refugees convention.

There was a similar agreement with the island nation of Nauru. The United Nations and pro-refugee activists have condemned the refugee camps, saying that under international law, valid asylum seekers should be resettled on Australian soil. Australian leaders responded that this was the most effective way to save refugees’ lives, by discouraging them from taking a dangerous trip to Australia by boat.

The policy has accomplished its objective. There had previously been tens of thousands of “boat people” per year arriving in Australia from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and other southeast Asian nations. This number has been reduced significantly.

However, the policy has been extremely controversial and opposed by pro-refugee activists. The government of Papua New Guinea (PNG) was paid by Australia for the costs of detaining the refugees, but there have been numerous stories of beatings, torture, and sexual abuse at the detention centers.

A major blow to the Manus Island policy came last year, when PNG’s Supreme Court dropped a bombshell, ruling that Australia’s refugee detention center on PNG’s Manus Island is inhumane, and must be shut down. The result is that the Manus detention center is scheduled to be shut down in October.

Now, the Australian government has been forced to a large settlement with the Manus Island refugees. The settlement has roiled Australian politics.

The Refugee Council of Australia says:

Today should be the final nail in the coffin of Australia’s abusive warehousing of people who came to us seeking safety. This class action settlement provides an opportunity for our government to put an end to the destruction of so many people’s lives, to the damage it does to Australia’s international reputation and to the blank check our government uses to fund offshore detention.

However, other activists are furious that the settlement wasn’t a lot larger, or that the case was settled at all, without a court trial. The Refugee Action Coalition said:

It’s not sufficient to compensate people for what they’ve been through. It would have been far better for the public to have heard the evidence from people on Manus Island, to see the thousands of pages of evidence of documents that reveal the scale of the mistreatment.

Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who was responsible for reaching the settlement agreement, said that a six-month court trial would have cost tens of millions of dollars in legal bill, and that there was no admission of liability:

Settlement is not an admission of liability in any regard.

The commonwealth strongly refutes and denies the claims made in these proceedings.

Labor [the previous government] imposed this cost on Australians when it handed control of the nation’s borders to criminal people-smuggling syndicates.

Dutton blamed the mess on the previous Labor government, and on the “ambulance-chasing lawyers” in the Slater & Gordon law firm. Guardian (London) and Peter Dutton’s statement and Special Broadcasting Service (Australia)

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The Manus refugees’ future is still undecided – except for those coming to the US

It seems pretty certain that the whole project of offshore detention centers is now dead for good. According to Amnesty International:

While the compensation deal is important, it does not remedy the injustices visited upon the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island or change their present circumstances. The Australian government must finally face up to the inescapable reality that their offshore detention policies are unsustainable and bring all of the people trapped by them to safety in Australia.

This settlement is a long overdue but welcome recognition of the harm that refugees and people seeking asylum have endured on Manus Island. Now, the Australian government must dismantle its illegal offshore detention centre and safely resettle these people.

However, the question of how they will be resettled remains to be determined.

We do know where 1,205 of the refugees are going to be resettled – they are coming to the United States. In November of last year, President Barack Obama and Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull signed an agreement to allow 1,250 refugees being held in the offshore detention centers to be resettled in the United States.

Early in February, President Donald Trump called it “the worst deal ever,” but promised to honor the deal because he was bound by agreements made by the previous administration. He confirmed that the US will take in up to 1,250 of these refugees, after subjecting each of them to “extreme vetting.” An interesting wrinkle to the agreement is that Turnbull and Obama also agreed that Australia would help the United States deal with its refugee problem by taking refugees from Costa Rica and resettling them in Australia.

With the forced closure of the detention centers, Australia must find a way to deal with the thousands of refugees still in the offshore detention centers. In addition, the collapse of the offshore detention center system will undoubtedly encourage a new flood of boat people from other countries. The plan is to pay the refugees, and deport them and send them back to their home countries, but this will certainly be fought in the courts by pro-refugee activists. Amnesty International and CNN

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Australia, Papua New Guinea, PNG, Manus Island, Nauru, Peter Dutton, Kevin Rudd, Amnesty International, Barack Obama, Malcolm Turnbull, Costa Rica
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