Australia Reaches $53 Million Settlement With Refugee Detainees

Australia Reaches $53 Million Settlement With Refugee Detainees

The Australian government reached a settlement on Wednesday with more than 1,900 asylum seekers who sued over their treatment at an immigration camp in Papua New Guinea.

Australia agreed to pay nearly £42 mln to Manus Island detainees who were seeking the compensation, according to the papers, they claimed the "degrading and cruel" treatment. They filed legal claims previous year against the Australian government and two contractors who ran the detention camp for Australia on PNG's Manus Island.

"The people detained on Manus Island have endured extremely hostile conditions, but they will no longer suffer in silence", Andrew Baker, an attorney for the detainees, said in a statement, going on to detail the persecution and violence numerous refugees had faced prior to their arrival, only to be met with further abuse on Manus.

The settlement removes a major impediment to Australia ending its controversial offshore detention scheme, under which would-be asylum seekers who arrive by boat are held indefinitely in the two Pacific detention centers.

Under former President Barack Obama, the United States agreed to take 1,250 refugees from Manus and other Australian detention centers.

"This case is not just about me, it is about every person who has been trapped on Manus Island", Kamasaee said in a statement.

Conditions in the Manus camp have been criticised by refugee advocates and doctors, with reports of abuse, self-harm and mental health problems.

Australia maintains they will never eligible to be resettled in Australia.

The camps on Manus and Nauru were once detention centers, but asylum seekers are now allowed outside the fences.

The lead plaintiff is Iranian refugee Majid Kamasaee who fled his homeland due to religious persecution in 2010 and was detained at the centre for 11 months. Every day in the harsh sun my skin felt like it was on fire.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Rory Walsh said the government and its contractor's defence "was that it was the PNG authorities doing the imprisoning and detaining and not them".

Lawyers representing the asylum seekers on Wednesday confirmed the case had been settled out of court, and said recipients could be given up to 150,000 Australian dollars (113,248 US dollars) each for their poor treatment.

Dutton said that settling the matter was a "prudent outcome for Australian taxpayers", rather than wade into a months-long legal battle that could cost tens of millions of dollars in legal fees.

"But from the public's point of view. one could say, of course, you would not be agreeing to make payments unless you pretty much accepted that the law in Australia would hold the government responsible for a duty of care to the men that have been detained in these wrongful circumstances", she said.

Dutton blamed the previous Labour government for reopening the Manus Island centre when it was not up to standard.

He said the Commonwealth strongly denied the claims made in the proceedings.

Greg Barns, a barrister and spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance, said in a statement yesterday that the costly settlement could have been avoided if the government had treated these asylum seekers lawfully from the beginning.

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