Australia refugee policy in turmoil following PNG exit

By Jill Fraser

MELBOURNE, Australia (AA) – Asylum seekers in an Australian detention center in Papua New Guinea appear to be in legal limbo after Australia announced it would not take them to the mainland after the facility was ordered closed.

Despite an order from PNG’s Supreme Court on Tuesday that the Manus Island center is illegal and Prime Minister Peter O’Neill ordering the shutdown, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is adamant that the detainees will not be entering Australia.

“We’ve been very clear that these men off Manus Island will not be settled in Australia,” he told Fairfax Radio on Thursday morning.

With Human Rights groups saying Australia can’t force PNG to hold people who were originally Australia’s responsibility, the future of the 850 detainees in the facility now hangs on a complex set of legal challenges.

“These people.. want to come to Australia, but that’s not the outcome they’re going to get. So they can either go back to their country of origin, they can settle in PNG or they can go to a third country and we’re obviously in discussions with a number of countries across the region that might accommodate people,” Dutton said.

“But the bottom line is; they are not coming.”

The politician added that Australia had paid PNG “a lot of money” to host the center, underlining that the asylum seekers are therefore their responsibility.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was equally decisive Thursday.

“They will not come to Australia. I want to be very, very clear about that,” he said adding “we cannot be misty-eyed about this.”

Australia’s argument is that allowing “illegal” asylum seekers to settle in Australia would encourage “people smugglers” to get back into business, which will inevitably lead to more tragic drownings.

Under Australia’s previous government, 1,200 asylum seekers died at sea while trying to get to Australia.

On ABC radio Thursday morning Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs adopted a contrary stance, saying “Australia can’t force Papua New Guinea to hold people who were originally Australia’s responsibility”.

Triggs said PNG could bring an international lawsuit to force Australia to take the 850 men and the stand-off could ultimately be resolved by Australia and PNG submitting to arbitration by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

“Basically of course Australia can’t force Papua New Guinea to hold people who were originally Australia’s responsibility, but equally of course for practical matters it’s very difficult for Papua New Guinea to force Australia to take these asylum-seekers back,” she told ABC radio.

“International law always has the option of perhaps initially some form of mediation or conciliation, possibly even an agreed arbitration of the matter, but ultimately it would be of course possible for one to bring another state before the International Court of Justice — the world court — for determination.”

It’s is still unclear when the facility would shut, but the Australian government is under intense pressure to deal with the problem before the upcoming federal election July 2.