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Under Australia’s unique system of ‘offshore processing’, people seeking asylum in Australia by boat are sent to Nauru or Manus Island in PNG for their refugee claims to be determined. The policy was resumed in September 2012 under a Labor government, but on 19 July 2013, the Australian Government made the policy more restrictive, so that those sent to Nauru or PNG were never to be settled in Australia, but instead to third countries that had yet to be identified. This policy has been continued by a Coalition government for the past five years.
Since 19 July 2013, 1,523 men have been sent to Manus Island under this policy. More than five years later, as of 22 October 2018, 626 are still in PNG. As we explore in the next section of the report, the RPC where the men were housed was closed during October and November 2017.
This report focuses on what has happened to these men since then.
Since offshore processing began, all governments involved have gone to extreme lengths to suppress the flow of information from Nauru and Manus Island. Australians find it very difficult to find out what is happening in their name. There are claims of public interest immunity, secrecy laws, decreasing publication of information, and confidentiality clauses in contracts.
Much media attention has been focused on women and children in Nauru. However, there are no women or children in PNG. which has made it easier to ignore the plight of these men. When the Australian Government was confronted with the prospect of a court hearing in a class action claiming compensation for those detained in Manus Island, it chose instead to settle the case for a record $70 million.]
Why Australia remains responsible for these men
Refugees and people seeking asylum are entitled to protection under the Refugee Convention by Australia, the place where they first claimed asylum. Instead of providing these protections, the Australian government has forcibly removed them to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and kept them there for more than four and a half years – in violation of its international law obligations under the Refugee Convention and international human rights law.
While Australia and Papua New Guinea have both ratified the Refugee Convention and have a responsibility to implement it, PNG is not a viable settlement option for refugees. While PNG bears responsibility for human rights violations committed in its territory or by PNG authorities, Australia also remains responsible because it sent these people there, it continues to fund and manage the contracts with service providers and provide technical support and advice, it determines which countries can accept refugees currently living on Manus and Nauru, and it can end offshore processing any time it wanted to by bringing those people to Australia.