SYDNEY • Asylum seekers and refugees held in a remote Pacific camp were yesterday awarded A$70 million (S$75.5 million) for being illegally detained and treated negligently, in Australia's largest human rights class action settlement.
Canberra sends asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat to facilities on Nauru in the Pacific and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, where they are blocked from resettlement in Australia.
But conditions in the camps have been widely criticised by doctors and refugee advocates, who say some asylum seekers have suffered mental health problems due to their prolonged detention.
A deal was struck in June to avoid a trial, more than three years after lawyers mounted the class action against the government and two service providers operating at Manus, claiming they breached their duty of care.
The compensation package was approved by Victoria's Supreme Court. Nauru was not involved in the legal case.
Justice Cameron Macaulay told the court the settlement was "fair and reasonable".
The Manus centre is due to shut next month after a Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling last year declared that holding people there was unconstitutional.
Lawyers for the group participating in the settlement said they hoped to get the compensation to the detainees before the closure of the centre.
"These detainees came to Australia seeking refuge, compassion and protection, which were all denied to them by successive Commonwealth governments," said Mr Rory Walsh of law firm Slater and Gordon.
Some 72 per cent, or 1,383, of the 1,923 detainees held at the Manus centre from November 2012 to December 2014 joined the class action.
Some opted out of the agreement, including Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia who said money was not the most important factor for him. "Getting that money is not the issue," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation yesterday, adding that little had changed regarding his situation in Manus.
Canberra has said it will move the asylum seekers and refugees from the Manus camp by next month when it closes.
Some will be relocated to third countries, or resettled elsewhere in Papua New Guinea.