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Offshore Asylum Seeker Detainees Win Historic Compensation in Australia

Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre

Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre. Image courtesy Behrouz Boochani. Used with permission.

An out-of-court settlement has highlighted the treatment by Australia of people seeking asylum who have been detained in Papua New Guinea's Manus Island detention centre since 2012.

About 1,905 men are to share 70 million Australian dollars (about 52 million US dollars) in compensation from the federal government and security companies Transfield and G4S. The class action argued that they suffered “physical and psychological harm” in the detention centres.

Their lawyers, Slater and Gordon, spelt it out:

The defendants will also pay 20 million (about 15 million US dollars) in legal costs. After the announcement, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton denied any admission of liability by the government.

John Lord and Martin Appleby, writing at the Australian Independent Media Network blog, called out the minister:

Shame, my country, shame on you that you would allow such evil to take place.

[…] Rather than defend their actions, which for the duration of the court proceedings would have caused considerable embarrassment for the government they chose, for 100 million dollars, to hide their atrocities from public view.

Refugee law professor Jane McAdam also questioned the minister's motives:

Iranian journalist and detainee Behrouz Boochani has documented life on Manus capturing video with a mobile phone. The result is “Chauka Please Tell Us The Time”, a collaboration with Iranian-Dutch filmmaker Arash Kamali Sarvestani.

It premiered at the Sydney Film Festival on 11 June to an enthusiastic reception:

Behrouz posted his thoughts about the compensation deal on his Facebook page:

The compensation that Australia wants to pay to the refugees in Manus is not enough. They want to pay an average of about $35000 to each person and this amount can never cover four years of the suffering we have experienced. The majority of the refugees have been seriously damaged physically and mentally and this money is not even enough to cover the medical expenses they will have to pay as a result.

Most comments on his post were positive, but there was some opposition. Helen Yammine argued, “Why did they sneak in to Australia, they should have no right to compensation”.

Wendy Williams, a journalist with the non-profit Pro Bono Australia, is hopeful of a change to the current policy regarding people seeking asylum who come by boat:

The announcement should be the “final nail in the coffin” for offshore detention, according to social sector leaders.

Not everyone on Twitter was pleased with the payout:

There are many similar comments (with some dissenters) on conservative journalist Andrew Bolt's blog post “WE PAY ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS A FORTUNE FOR REFUSING TO GO HOME“.

In contrast, some on Twitter drew attention to the large sums of money already spent on the offshore program. These have apparently run into the tens of billions:

Others compared the compensation with the “failed” program to resettle detainees in Cambodia:

Tim Byrnes captured the feelings of many online who are sympathetic to the plight of the detainees:

Earlier Global Voices posts about Manus Island include:

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