Asylum seekers in Asia

Asylum-seekers win multimillion dollar payout for enduring ‘extremely hostile conditions’ in Manus Island camp

Lawyers Slater and Gordon said they believed it was the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian history

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 3:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 June, 2017, 11:07pm

Detainees at a controversial Australian asylum-seeker camp in Papua New Guinea won AUD$70 million (US$53 million) in compensation on Wednesday after alleging they suffered physical and psychological harm.

The settlement, to be shared by 1,905 people held on Manus Island since 2012, averted a public trial against the government and security providers Transfield and G4S.

A class action sought damages for alleged suffering due to harsh conditions in which detainees were held.

It also called for a payout for false imprisonment after the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled last year that holding asylum-seekers on Manus Island was unconstitutional and illegal.

The Australian government confirmed the settlement, which it said it entered into to save taxpayers the expense of a costly trial. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton described settling the case as a “prudent” decision.

Lawyers Slater and Gordon said they believed it was the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian history, with the defendants also agreeing to pay costs of more than AUD$20 million.

“The people detained on Manus Island have endured extremely hostile conditions, but they will no longer suffer in silence,” said Andrew Baker, from the law firm.

“While no amount of money could fully recognise the terrible conditions the detainees endured, we hope today’s settlement can begin to provide them with an opportunity to help put this dark chapter of their lives behind them.”

The Manus facility opened in 2012 to detain people trying to enter Australia by boat under a tough immigration policy that sends them offshore to be processed.

They are blocked from resettling in Australia even if found to be refugees.

Conditions in the camp, and another one on Nauru in the Pacific, have been widely criticised by refugee advocates and medical professionals, with reports of widespread abuse, self-harm and mental health issues.

Lead plaintiff Majid Kamasaee, an Iranian, welcomed the settlement as an overdue acknowledgement of the suffering he and others endured.

“This case is not just about me, it is about every person who has been trapped on Manus Island,” said Kamasaee, who was held there for 11 months

“I left my home in Iran in 2013 because of religious persecution and I came to Australia seeking peace, but I was sent to Manus, which was hell.

“The way we were treated at the Manus Island detention centre was degrading and cruel.”

Additional reporting by Reuters