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Papua New Guinea's Chief Justice has found the Manus Island detention centre has been closed, despite the fact that roughly 860 men remain in it.
Sir Salamo Injia has accepted a submission from the PNG Government, stating the centre has been closed and the refugees and asylum seekers within it are now accommodated at the navy base the centre was built on.
The 860 men inside the centre have not actually moved from their existing compounds, but have been told they are now living on the naval base.
The PNG Government needed to cease detaining the men in the centre to comply with a Supreme Court decision last year that found detention there breached their constitutional rights.
Sir Salamo told a sitting of the Supreme Court the Government had complied with the order by allowing the men to leave the centre during the day and by saying the centre was now part of the Lombrum naval base.
“The Government of Papua New Guinea complied with the court order and closed the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (MIRPC),” he said.
“The transferees were allowed to move freely in and out of the MIRPC, and later when the MIRPC was shut down completely, they were accommodated at the nearby PNG Defence Force Navy base,” he said.
The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection still lists the centre as being operational and housing 861 men.
Sir Salamo made the comments as the Supreme Court dismissed an application to stop the PNG Government deporting the 205 asylum-seekers whose refugee claims had been rejected.
The court found the men were no longer detained because they were allowed to leave the centre during the day.
Its decision means there are no impediments to further deportations.
The Chief Justice comments' signal difficulties for an ongoing application by the the asylum-seekers and refugees on Manus Island for compensation, full release from Manus Island and potential transfer back to Australia.
His Honour said the Government of PNG was solely responsible for the men and praised the process it used to determine their refugee status.
“A screening and decision-making process that yields a very high percentage (69 per cent) of asylum-seekers receiving refugee status bespeaks of a process that has been fair and merit based,” he said.
“It would seem unfair, cause great inconvenience and financial hardship and cause prejudice and complicate the rights and obligations of the Government of PNG and the Government of Australia under domestic and international law, for this court to compel the Government of Australia and the Government of PNG to do more than their share of meeting their international obligations to help asylum-seekers in addressing their plight.”
Sir Salamo found the men in the centre were still subject to restrictions on their movements simply because they were on a military facility.
“Military premises being what they are, the transferees are subject to the same restrictions that apply to its own inhabitants,” he said.
The Chief Justice's comments and the submission that the centre is now closed are at odds with the PNG Government's publicly stated deadline to close it by October 31 this year.
PNG Ministers told an Australian delegation on 08 March they wanted the centre closed by then and asked for Australia's help in dealing with refugees who might not be resettled in the United States.
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