Asylum-seekers at Australian camp in Papua New Guinea now free to come and go, after court ruling

Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea, on March 21, 2014.
Asylum-seekers look through a fence at the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea, on March 21, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Asylum-seekers held at an Australian camp in Papua New Guinea can now freely come and go from the centre, their lawyer and media said on Thursday (May 12), following a Supreme Court ruling that their detention was unconstitutional.

Australia's policy of sending asylum-seekers who try to enter the country by boat to offshore camps was thrown into disarray last month when PNG's highest court ruled against the detention of 850 men on Manus Island.

The lawyer acting for the asylum-seekers in the Supreme Court case, Mr Ben Lomai, told AFP the detainees have been able to leave and return to the facility since Wednesday.

PNG's Deputy Chief Migration Officer Esther Gaegaming told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday that "no asylum seeker or refugee is in detention".

"We are continuing to work towards fully implementing the orders of the Supreme Court."

After the April 26 ruling that holding asylum-seekers on Manus was "contrary to their constitutional right of personal liberty", PNG's prime minister ordered the facility to close.

In early May, more than 750 asylum-seekers at the camp launched legal action in Canberra's High Court to be moved to Australia.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said there were ongoing discussions between the two nations over the Manus camp.

"PNG's a sovereign nation. They have responsibility for their Regional Processing Centre... so that's the basis on which we will work with the PNG authorities," Mr Dutton said, stressing that the men would not be brought to Australia.

In October, another Australia camp, on the island of Nauru, threw open the doors and allowed inmates freedom of movement.

Mr Lomai said the detainees could now move freely during the day around Manus - but not depart the island - as long as they sign in and out of the facility.

"If they go out overnight, they will have to advise where they're going and where they're staying," Mr Lomai added.

Refugee advocates called for more freedoms with activist group GetUp saying it still made Manus a "prison island".

Mr Lomai said his firm was due back at the Supreme Court on Monday with an application for the enforcement of the men's constitutional rights, which could lead to compensation claims.

Australia's hardline policy has been criticised by the United Nations, but Canberra says it prevents deaths at sea and secures the nation's borders.