PNG court rejects application to restore food, water and power to Manus detention centre


The PNG Supreme Court has rejected an application to restore electricity, medical care, food and water supplies to the Manus Island detention centre.

The Papua New Guinea Supreme Court has rejected an application requesting authorities to resume electricity, food, medical care and water supplies to the Manus Island detention centre.

Almost 600 refugees and asylum seekers have barricaded themselves inside.

They are adamant it is safer to remain than risk being attacked by locals at the new accommodation near the main township.

The lawyers fighting for the restoration of supplies to the centre will appeal the findings as early as Wednesday. 

Refugees and asylum seekers during an October 2017 protest at the Manus Island immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea.
Refugees and asylum seekers during an October 2017 protest at the Manus Island immigration detention centre in Papua New Guinea.

Iranian refugee Behrouz Boochani, a journalist who is being held on Manus Island, said the court's decision meant the 'government could kill' asylum seekers and refugees.

"Just now PNG court rejected our application. It means the [government] can kill us by depriving us of access to food. We are outside of any law," he tweeted after the verdict. 

“Refugees reaction to PNG court: We won't leave this prison for another prison. Some ppl crying, but saying won't leave till freedom & safety,” he wrote in another tweet. 

Ben Lomai, the lawyer for the group, lodged the application in the PNG Supreme Court on Monday arguing for services and utilities to be restored based on human rights grounds.

PNG court rejects application to restore food, water and power to Manus detention centre
PNG court rejects application to restore food, water and power to Manus detention centre

The application sought to block the PNG immigration department from transferring the group to unsecured alternative accommodation and restrains the defence force from forcibly evicting people.

The court handed down its decision at 11.45am local time (12.45am AEST) in Port Moresby.

Speaking after the verdict Mr Lomai said a crucial point was that as of October 31, the PNG government is now fully responsible for all refugees in the country and Australia was no longer legally responsible. 

He said if the PNG government wanted to decide the future of refugees on Manus, they had the power to do so. 

The Australian Director of Human Rights Watch said it was now "up to Australia to bring these men to safety".

Director Elaine Pearson called on the Australian government to listen to the safety concerns of those still on Manus.

"Moving hundreds of men to a town where refugees have been beaten, stabbed and robbed is incredibly irresponsible," she said. 

The Refugee Action Coalition echoed this, with spokesman Ian Rintoul saying: "The decision of the PNG Supreme Court decision does not alter the inhumanity of the siege on Manus Island, nor alter the role of the Australian government.

"It does not alter the fact that Manus is unsafe, and settlement in PNG is impossible. The onus is still on the government to provide the safety and security that the refugees and asylum seekers need.

"They were unlawfully transported to PNG; they have been unlawfully held in detention.”

Meanwhile, two women have abseiled off a crane at Flemington Racecourse with a banner that reads, "SOS: Evacuate Manus Now!", during Melbourne Cup day celebrations.

The women - Hannah Patchett, 24, and Katherine Woskett, 27 - plan to remain suspended off the crane indefinitely, according to a statement.

"We are joining with others across Australia to demand that the government evacuate the men on Manus immediately and bring them to safety for processing," WACA spokesperson Charlotte Lynch said.

PNG defence force Commander Brigadier General Gilbert Toropo said the issue of processing asylum seekers was ultimately the responsibility of the Australian government and the PNG immigration office.

He also felt it was the immigration department's responsibility to ensure those remaining at the detention centre moved to alternative accommodation. 

The defence force has blocked boats of Manus locals from dropping off food and supplies to the refugees and asylum seekers.

PNG Immigration Minister Petrus Thomas insists it's no longer possible to restore services to the detention centre, urging its inhabitants to leave.

Mr Petrus said it was simply a case of reconnecting the water or electricity at the mothballed facility, which was officially closed on Tuesday last week.

"There is no service provider to deliver services and more significantly, as services are available at the new facilities, there is no need for services to be reconnected," he said in a statement.

'They should move': Turnbull

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is urging the refugees and asylum seekers holed up inside the Manus Island detention centre to move to alternative accommodation, criticising those he suspects of encouraging the men not to budge.

"There are alternative facilities available of a very high quality with food and all of the (other) facilities," Mr Turnbull told ABC radio on Tuesday.

"The residents at Manus, the RPC, they are being asked to move and they should move."

Asked if he accepted the men were too scared to move, Mr Turnbull responded by saying "[it's] the very sad reality".

"I think the responsible course of action is to encourage them to comply with the lawful requests and requirements of the PNG authorities," the prime minister said.

Mr Turnbull said the federal government was doing everything it could to find resettlement countries for genuine refugees.

"We have secured an arrangement with the United States which will enable a substantial number to be resettled in the United States," he said.

But New Zealand is off the table, despite Jacinda Ardern repeating the offer to take in 150 refugees held in Australia's offshore detention network.

"It would be marketed by the people smugglers as a back door to Australia," Mr Turnbull said.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd feels it is time for those on Manus to come to Australia.

In a tweet on Tuesday Mr Rudd said Mr Turnbull’s handling of asylum seekers on Manus was "inhumane".

"Turnbull's handling of Manus is inhumane. The 2013 Agreement was for a year. Turnbull has failed to resettle them, so they should come to Oz," he tweeted. 

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Mr Rudd’s comments were "delusional".

"Still delusional. 1200 people drowned at sea under Labor and agreement you signed was not time-limited. Is your plan Labor's 'real' plan?" he responded. 

Refugees had hoped Mr Turnbull would accept a longstanding New Zealand offer to resettle 150 of them.

However, during a bilateral meeting in Sydney with his counterpart Jacinda Ardern on Sunday, Mr Turnbull said his government was focused on a United States resettlement deal to take up to 1250 people.

So far, 54 refugees have been resettled in the US.

Mr Turnbull will meet Donald Trump on the sidelines of the East Asia summit in the Philippines later this month and is facing calls to lobby for the US president to speed up the resettlement process.

Anti-Manus Island protesters rally in Melbourne
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has hit back at critics of the Manus Detention Centre closure. (AAP)

'Wretched souls stuck in political game'

AMA President Dr Michael Gannon has stressed concerns for the physical and mental wellbeing of the refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island.

"We're concerned about both physical and mental aspects of the health of these wretched souls who are stuck in a bigger political game," he told ABC News on Tuesday.

"They have great uncertainty in their lives, they have done for years, and we're hearing unverified reports about reduced access to medication.

"The most important thing these men need is certainty in their lives."

Mr Boochani said PNG immigration and health officials on Monday visited the centre to check on hygiene conditions.

Mr Gannon called for independent verification of the living standards for those on Manus.

"That's the only thing that doctors can possibly call for, is appropriate health care standards for a group of people who, although they're not Australian citizens, are entitled to protection under Australian law.

"What we've been calling for, for some time now, is transparency about the arrangements for these men.”

"Transparency is in the interests of the Government. Even if the Australian people support offshore detention, which they're said to do, a great majority of Australians are uncomfortable with the prospect that people who should enjoy our legal protection are not being afforded the appropriate standard of care."

Refugee's new life in Canada 

Meanwhile a refugee who used to live on Manus Island has found a backdoor to a new life in Canada.

Iranian man Amir Taghinia, 24, flew from Papua New Guinea last Thursday to Coquitlam, Canada.

Australian citizen Wayne Taylor, wife Linda Taylor and a group of Coquitlam residents have rallied to support Mr Taghinia's resettlement under Canada's private sponsorship scheme.

Iranian man Amir Taghinia with the Taylor family in Coquitlam, Canada.
Iranian man Amir Taghinia with the Taylor family in Coquitlam, Canada.

The Taylors' daughter Chelsea met Mr Taghinia during her time as a healthcare worker on Manus Island.

The family spent the past 22 months working with the Canadian and Australian governments to allow the resettlement.

Mr Taghinia is still in disbelief.

"My soul is on Manus Island," he told AAP on the phone from Canada.

Asylum seekers refusing to leave the Manus Island Detention Centre.
Labor says Australia should consider New Zealand's ongoing offer to accept refugees from Manus. (AAP)

"As long as there are people there I can't really rest, I can't have a feeling of relief. I need every single one of those guys off the island."

Mr Taghinia plans to study to become a human rights lawyer and wants to help contribute to Canadian society to thank the country for giving him a go.

Meanwhile, there are grave fears for the health of an Iranian refugee who experienced heart pain over the weekend.

It took PNG authorities more than four hours to get him to a hospital on Saturday and then he was sent back to the centre because it lacked adequate equipment.

Six detainees have died on Manus Island - including one who was murdered - since it was reopened in 2012.

A brief history of offshore processing.
A brief history of offshore processing.

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