Scott Morrison says PNG agreed to relax a decade-old agreement to allow the deportation of a group of West Papuans from Australia, back to PNG.
The Immigration Minister has confirmed Australia and Papua New Guinea relaxed a decade old bilateral agreement to deport seven West Papuan asylum seekers last week.
They arrived in the Torres Strait from Indonesia after transiting for two days in PNG, saying they feared they would be killed if captured by the Indonesian military.
A 2003 Memorandum of Understanding between the Australia and PNG allows deportation of asylum seekers back to PNG only if seven or more days are spent there in transit.
Refugee activists say the deportation was illegal.
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West Papuans seeking asylum arriving in Australia's Torres Strait via Papua New Guinea is not unprecedented, but it has been rare in the past decade.
Last week, seven West Papuans, including a pregnant woman and a child, turned up on Boigu island and were immediately deported to PNG.
How they were dealt with under a 2003 Memorandum of Understanding between Australia and PNG concerned Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul.
"The 2003 Memorandum of Understanding requires that, for someone to be sent back from Australia to PNG, that they've been in PNG for seven days, and that clearly wasn't the case with these people. So, I think they have been unlawfully removed from Australia to Papua New Guinea, and, in that process, the Government has ignored their right to make asylum application here and has also jeopardised any possibility of getting permanent protection in PNG, because PNG doesn't provide permanent protection to West Papuans."
The West Papuans say they only spent two days in PNG before crossing by boat into Australia.
After not commenting on the deportation for over a week, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has finally addressed the issue at a media conference.
"They were taken to Papua New Guinea under a Memorandum of Understanding between the two governments, which is of some long standing, and a concession agreed between the PNG government and Australia." (SBS:) "Is that the 2003 one?" (Morrison:) "Yes."
And Mr Morrison confirmed that concession was a relaxation of the seven-day threshold for deportation.
"There was a concession agreed between the two governments." (SBS:) "You say there was in this case?" (Morrison:) "Hm."
The Memorandum of Understanding's intention was to catch asylum seekers coming to PNG in hopes of crossing into Australia via the Torres Strait, in far-north Queensland.
Ian Rintoul says there are two known cases of West Papuans being returned in 2006 and 2007 under the agreement.
"It has to be said that we haven't been able to verify those conditions in the previous instances where we have had concerns about the seven-day issue and the situation in which they were being removed for precisely the same reason."
Ian Rintoul says refugee advocates are now looking at their legal options.
"We're certainly pursing our enquiries in that respect, and our immediate concern now, though, is focused on what is happening to them in PNG. So, we have made the call for them to be brought back to Australia, and they should be brought back to Ausralia so their protection applications can be assessed."
Professor Damien Kingsbury is director of the Centre for Citizenship, Development and Human Rights at Deakin University in Victoria.
He believes the chances of a legal case against the removal of the West Papuans succeeding are slim.
"If the challenge were in Australia, I would expect it to go nowhere. If the challenge were in Papua New Guinea, it's possible that it could be successful, but then that would, again, depend on_ Ã__ÃÍ___ Ã__ÃÍ__ how the governments chose to deal with the matter. As we've seen in the past, because the courts make a determination doesn't necessarily mean that that's what ends up applying. And I think, in this case, if the PNG Government is in agreement with the Australian Government that the asylum seekers should be returned to PNG, then, ultimately, I think that's what would happen."
Australian Catholic University law professor Frank Brennan says the decision to invoke the 2003 memorandum, rather than the more recent agreement to send asylum seekers to PNG, is significant.
"If the seven Papuans were sent back by the new MOU negotiated under the Rudd Government, then Papua New Guinea would be obliged not to send them back to West Papua. And if having determined through transparent processes that they were, in fact, refugees, (they) would have to offer them citizenship in Papua New Guinea and would have to accord all of the extra provisions which were there in the 2013 memorandum, none of which are contained in the memorandum of 2003."