Court obligates Australia to pay damages to refugees

Refugee advocates take part in a protest against a government decision to cut welfare assistance to some 100 asylum seekers transported to Australia for medical treatment, in Sydney, Australia, August 31, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Australia has been obligated by Victoria State’s Supreme Court to pay billions in compensation to hundreds of asylum seekers it has been illegally keeping in dire conditions on a remote island.
The case had been brought to the court by law firm Slater and Gordon, which is representing some 72 percent of the 1,923 detainees who have been held at a controversial detention center on the island country of Nauru from November 2012 to December 2014.
Canberra has been sending refugees arriving by boat at its shores to the facility as well as another one on Papua New Guinea (PNG)’s Manus Island.
Victoria State’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the Australian government had to award the litigants AUD 70 million (USD 56 million) for detaining them illegally and mistreating them.
The filing of the legal complaint marked the largest human rights class action settlement involving Australia.
Rory Walsh of the law firm said, “These detainees came to Australia seeking refuge, compassion and protection, which were all denied to them by successive Commonwealth governments.”
“The result that has been achieved in this case — against significant odds — will allow meaningful compensation to be paid to group members much more quickly than would otherwise have been the case,” he added.
Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, however, Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia said he thought differently.
“Getting that money is not the issue,” he said, adding, “We are still in the same situation, we are still suffering from the same conditions. It is absolutely not in favor of any of the detainees in here, but it is in favor of the law firm and the defendant.”
In January, an activist group said two Iranians who had applied for refugee status in Australia had been assaulted and severely beaten by the police on Manus. The Iranians were on their way to celebrations for New Year’s Eve outside the Australian-run detention camp when they were approached by police, told they could not be outside the camp, and heavily beaten, said Refugee Action Coalition Sydney.
This combo image shows grievous bodily harm inflicted on two Iranian asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea on New Year’s Eve.

In August, Australia agreed to close down the Manus camp after the PNG’s Supreme Court ruled that the detention of asylum seekers was in violation of the right to personal liberty enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Refugees have, meanwhile, been widely reported to be kept in squalid conditions and beaten up by police.
In 2014, an Iranian asylum seeker named Reza Barati (seen in the portrait below) was killed from severe head trauma during a riot at the detention center on Manus Island.
Also last August, the Iranian Embassy in Canberra issued a statement, expressing concern about the treatment of Iranian refugees at the detention centers run by the Australian government. It added that the diplomatic mission would always assist the return of the refugees to the Islamic Republic as long as it took place on a voluntary basis.

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