The Australian Lawyers Alliance has urged the federal government to take responsibility for the safety of the refugees on Manus Island.
The ALA issued a call to action on Friday after Papua New Guinea (PNG) police and immigration authorities entered the Manus Island camp and ordered the refugees and asylum seekers to leave, allegedly emptying drinking water tanks and destroying their possessions.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and PNG authorities have since said that all of the remaining 328 men have been moved to new facilities on the island.
Iranian journalist and Manus detainee Behrouz Boochani told the ABC that PNG police beat some of the refugees during the relocation. However, PNG Police Commissioner Gari Baki said the process was undertaken “peacefully and without the use of force”.
ALA spokesperson and barrister Greg Barns said the Australian government had a clear obligation to ensure the safety of the detainees.
“The situation on Manus Island has reached crisis point,” he said.
“Under the Work Health and Safety Act, the government has a clear obligation not to put these men at risk.
“The Federal Court has found that there is a duty of care owed to these men. The rule of law demands that these men are offered safety immediately. Why does the government think it is acceptable to flagrantly ignore its own laws and abandon these men?
“The men on Manus Island have always been, and remain, Australia’s responsibility.”
The UN Human Rights Committee recently issued a report condemning Australia’s offshore detention regime, and said it was particularly alarmed by the closure of the Manus Island facility.
Many of the refugees have serious health conditions. While PNG authorities have claimed that the new centres have water, electricity, food and medical services, reports have indicated that at least one of the new facilities is still under construction.
World Vision Australia chief advocate Tim Costello told the ABC he had visited the West Lorengau Haus facility and it was still a “construction site”, with earthmoving equipment and open drains.
Mr Dutton said the centres had been operational since 31 October, including medical services. He also said he understood some equipment and water infrastructure had been vandalised, and that the government was investigating the matter.
“The UNHCR has said that Australia has ‘created and then abandoned a humanitarian crisis’,” Mr Barns said.
“The alternative accommodation is still being constructed and is likely to take at least another couple of weeks before it will be ready for the men to live in. Abandoning these men is just not viable. The ALA agrees with the UNHCR that the Australian government must do more to find lasting solutions for these men.”
Mr Barns urged the government to accept New Zealand’s offer to take up to 150 of the detainees.
“The federal government must approve the New Zealand deal immediately, and urgently move to resolve the situation for all of these men, including refugees, those who have been found not to be refugees, and those whose status is still being determined,” he said.
“These people are Australia’s responsibility. They deserve certainty and an opportunity to rebuild their lives.”
Mr Barns is currently an adviser to legal action being taken on behalf of the asylum seekers on Manus Island.