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PNG court orders Australia to present an asylum seeker resettlement plan

Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered Australia to present a resettlement plan for nearly 900 asylum seekers held in what it says is an illegal detention centre on Manus island — a move detainees fear will further delay their release.

The Supreme Court ruled more than three months ago that the detention centre, used to house asylum seekers trying to reach Australia, was illegal. The centre was approved by the Papua New Guinea government and is funded by Australia.

The court order is the latest delay in determining the future of the detainees and human rights groups say tensions are rising in the detention centre, which has a history of violent protests and self harm by detainees.

“The level of frustration on Manus Island is as high as it has ever been,” said Ian Rintoul, an Australian refugee advocate who was on Manus Island last week.

“The court action, while a glimmer of hope, is frustrating them as there has been no action despite detention being found to be unlawful.”

Under Australia’s hardline immigration policy, anyone intercepted trying to reach the country by boat is sent for processing to camps on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or on Nauru in the South Pacific. They are never eligible to be resettled in Australia.

The Papua New Guinea government has said it plans to close the Manus centre after the Supreme Court ruling, raising the question where will the detainees be resettled. Many in Papua New Guinea do not want the asylum seekers in their community.

The asylum seekers come from across the Middle East and Asia predominately, with Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan accounting for the bulk. Some have been held in detention for several years.

Lawyers for the 898 Manus island detainees have asked the Supreme Court for compensation of 1,500 kina ($462.75) for every day they were held illegally.

The Supreme Court said it would call on Australia to provide a representative on Thursday to provide details on a resettlement plan.

“The court has embarked on this process on issue of resettlement. That is a matter for the two governments, what we want is for them to be released,” said Ben Lomai, a lawyer for some of the detainees, told Reuters on Tuesday.

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