As PNG Offshore Detention Ends, Australia Abandons Its Remaining Detainees

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Offshore detention

Proving she’s just as substantial a human rights abuser as her predecessor Peter Dutton, home affairs minister Karen Andrews announced on 6 October that her government will be abandoning the remaining 120-odd asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, after detaining them there for 8 years.

Andrews outlined that our country is bringing an end to the offshore processing and warehousing agreement it has had with PNG since July 2013. It will come to an end on the last day of this year, with the island nation then having “full responsibility for those who remain”.

“Prior to 31 December 2021, Australia will support anyone subject to regional processing arrangements in PNG who wishes to voluntarily transfer to Nauru,” states the home affairs minister. “PNG will provide a permanent migration pathway for those wishing to remain in PNG.”

Throughout her press release, Andrews refers to the asylum seekers as having “illegally” attempted to enter Australia by boat, when, in actuality, it’s their right to seek asylum under the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Indeed, the International Criminal Court condemned Australia over the illegalities surrounding its offshore detention regime in February last year, not those imprisoned within it.

An enduring form of torture

The 124 men being abandoned in PNG were held in Australia’s notorious Manus Island immigration detention centre from around 2013, until that nation’s Supreme Court ruled the facility unconstitutional in 2016, which led to it being closed the following year.

Since then, asylum seekers in PNG have been detained in various facilities and alternative places of detention. And whilst there is talk of PNG facilitating the resettlement of the remaining men in third countries, on our part, the only option being provided is joining other long-term detainees on Nauru.

And whilst the news of offshore processing coming to an end in PNG is positive, Andrews only just announced last month that a memorandum of understanding has been signed with the Nauruan government that established an “enduring form of offshore processing” over there.

So, it appears that while the PNG government is over its southern neighbour incarcerating the innocent on its land, the Morrison government has shored up its “forever” gulag in Nauru with the aim of deterring people from Afghanistan seeking asylum following the return of Taliban rule.

End offshore warehousing

Former Manus Island detainee Thanuraj Selvarasa said in a statement that Papua New Guinea has never been “a safe place to hold detainees hostage”, and he added that the Morrison government should end its “human trafficking overseas”.

Selvarasa was transferred to Australia under the Medevac laws in 2019. And after further detainment in a hotel, he was released into the community on a bridging visa early this year, which begs the question as to why it was ever necessary to incarcerate him long-term in the first place.

As for those remaining asylum seekers in PNG, Selvarasa maintains that they should be released and compensated for the “eight years of horror” they’ve been subjected to. And he further posits that the whole process of offshore detention should come to an end.

“It is great that the anarchic hell of PNG is over,” long-term refugee rights advocate Jane Salmon told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

“It is lousy that innocent humans who came to Australia for help are still being trafficked to Nauru after nine horrific years of violence, death, poor services and lousy mental health outcomes.”

“Enough is enough.”

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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