Starved refugees lose court action. But one lawyer thinks that might present a new opportunity. [TWEETS]

Refugees on Manus Island detention facility
Tom Coburg

Around 600 refugees have been held for years on a remote island detention centre by the Australian government.

But now Papua New Guinea (PNG) authorities, acting in conjunction with the Australian government, have stopped all food, running water and electricity getting through to the centre. An injunction sought to end this blockade, but failed. However, the court ruled that the refugees were no longer the responsibility of Australia. And as one lawyer pointed out, the implications of that could be enormous.

Starved refugees lose court action

The PNG government told the refugees – all men – that they had to move to a facility at Lorengau, after the supreme court ruled the detention centre was unconstitutional. But the refugees refused because they fear violence. They have already witnessed murder, riots, beatings, suicides, and attacks by locals and the PNG navy. And recently, they have received death threats.

Then, the PNG authorities cut off supplies:

This reportedly led to sickness:

A court injunction was sought on behalf of Behrouz Boochani, a Kurdish Iranian refugee and filmmaker, to end the blockade. But it failed:

The lawyer who thinks the ruling might present a new opportunity…

Although the ruling is a massive disappointment to the refugees, Greg Barns QC (who represented Boochani) made a significant point:

Chief Justice Salami Injia said the Australian government’s responsibility:

ended with the closure of the [Manus regional processing centre], which it operated, and it falls squarely on the government of PNG to take full responsibility.

This is significant because New Zealand had offered to take over 150 of the refugees, but Australia refused that offer. Now, however, Australia is no longer relevant:

One Manus-detained refugee who made it to Canada said:


The refugees’ protest and legal challenge, meanwhile, were complemented by protests in Australia, and supported by condemnations from leading human rights organisations.

While the legal drama in PNG was taking place, for example, the main train line in Australia to Flemington racecourse was blocked by activists supporting the refugees on the day of the Melbourne Cup. A spokesperson said:

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…

And two brave women abseiled from a crane at the racecourse to unfurl a banner:

Rise, one of the activist groups, issued a statement, concluding:

The international community should also condemn Australia… for exploiting less affluent countries such as Papua New Guinea and Nauru and using them as proxies to carry out human rights abuses against refugees.


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) also issued a statement condemning Australia’s treatment of the refugees:

We repeat our overall concerns about Australia’s offshore processing centres, which are unsustainable, inhumane and contrary to its human rights obligations.

A statement was issued by Doctors For Refugees, too. And Human Rights Watch summarised what is happening via video:

PNG should end the illegal detention of refugees and talk directly to New Zealand, Canada and other countries to organise their resettlement; and not just the 600 in the decommissioned centre, but all 800+ still on the island.

Get Involved!

– Read The Canary‘s articles on refugees.

–Support WACA (Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance).

Featured image via screenshot

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