January 23, 2013
Asylum seekers on Manus Island have welcomed news that its processing centre will be tested in Papua New Guinea’s courts.
In a letter to Opposition Leader Belden Namah, who initiated the court battle, and signed by 33 asylum seekers, the detainees say the move is their ”only hope” of freedom.
”We are asylum seekers, families with young children, and teenagers, not a group of criminals or smugglers,” they wrote.
Mr Namah began proceedings on Friday in the National Court of Papua New Guinea, claiming the processing centre was the result of ”many abuses of PNG law and of ministerial powers”.
”Our claim, that the … detention scheme is unconstitutional and the detainees on Manus are held illegally in PNG, has never been legitimately addressed by the government and must now be answered in our highest courts,” he said.
The announcement was greeted with scepticism on Monday by Labor MP Mark Dreyfus, who said it ”smacks of politics”. But Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Tuesday refused to comment. ”This is a matter for the PNG judicial system and I’m not going to start predicting the outcome of the court case,” she said.
Mr Namah said he had filed a summons in the National Court on Friday, and planned to file an injunction for the release of those detained on Manus Island, and to prevent any more people being sent there.
In their letter to Mr Namah, the asylum seekers said they had been brought to Manus Island in ignorance and against their will.
On Tuesday, 32 single adult men – 25 Iranians, five Iraqis and two Sri Lankans – were sent to the Nauru processing centre.
The immigration department said 49 had returned from Nauru to their countries of origin voluntarily since the camp began operating – 43 Sri Lankans, four Iraqis and two Iranians. Iran refuses to take back Iranian nationals who won’t go voluntarily.