February 11, 2013
Asylum-seeker transfers to the Australian-run Manus Island detention centre in PNG could be temporarily halted amid a legal challenge. Picture: Gary Ramage Source: News Limited
ASYLUM-seeker transfers to the Australian-run Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea could be temporarily halted from tomorrow, when the controversial scheme meets its first test in the nation’s court of human rights.
Lawyers representing the opposition will ask the government of Peter O’Neill to stop the transfers until the court makes its ruling.
Loani Henaos of Henaos lawyers, who is bringing the challenge on behalf of opposition leader Belden Namah, says he expects the PNG government to ask Justice David Canning for an adjournment tomorrow.
“I will be asking the government not to bring in anymore intake (of asylum-seekers) until the substantive hearing,” Mr Henaos said.
“The court will consider that and we’ll see how we go tomorrow.”
There are currently 274 detainees at the temporary Manus facility – including more than 30 children – living in conditions that that have been widely criticised as inhumane.
Attorney-General Kerenga Kua has argued the site is legal under the nation’s immigration law, which grants power to the immigration minister to set up a processing facility.
Mr Henaos says that’s unconstitutional.
“The memorandum of understanding between Australia and PNG is unconstitutional on the basis that it allows the PNG government to bring in asylum-seekers from a foreign country, and the minute they put their foot on PNG territory, they are arrested,” he said.
“We’re saying every person – whether you’re a national, PNG citizen or a foreigner – when you come into the country you have your personal liberty guaranteed under the constitution.
“They were made to come in and then were arrested.”
Mr Kua was not immediately available for comment; however, he has in the past rejected the definition of the site as a detention centre.
“We are providing them with a place to live,” he said in January.
“It’s not a detention centre, as people call it. There is no law in our country that authorises us to establish a detention centre. But under our migration act, the minister can set up a processing facility.”
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees recently labelled the centre unlawful.
The refugee agency released a damning report on February 4 slamming conditions at the facility – which mostly comprises tents – and called for the transfer of children there to be suspended.
It said the situation was at odds with Australia’s international obligations, and children should not be transferred there until all appropriate legal and administrative safeguards were in place.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who visited the site in late January, said children there were witnessing self-harm and suicide attempts by adults.
The Australian government on Saturday announced a deal with New Zealand to send 150 asylum-seekers a year across the Tasman from centres such as Manus and the one on Nauru.
The court hearing is expected to start at 10.30am (AEDT) tomorrow in Port Moresby.