The IRCT welcomes the decision by the Australian Government to close the immigration detention centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. This is a long-awaited decision given that the existence of this detention centre has raised significant questions as to Australia’s compliance with its international human rights commitments.
In the context of the announced closure, the IRCT is concerned about the proposal to offer refugees currently detained on Manus Island the choice between returning to their countries of origin or resettlement in Papua New Guinea. These alternatives conflict with Australia’s international human rights obligations. Many of the asylum seekers and refugees have suffered traumatic experiences, including torture and ill-treatment in their countries of origin, violence during flight, and ill treatment on Manus Island. They have a well-established right to rehabilitation and to protection from torture and ill-treatment - which the UN Committee against Torture reiterated in 2014 when it concluded that the Australian Government was responsible for their situation.
If returned to their countries of origin, victims of torture are destined to continue a life affected by the impact of torture and ill-treatment with no prospect of receiving rehabilitation; the same can be expected of resettlement in Papua New Guinea. This could lead many refugees to feel that they have no choice but to return to their home countries, despite a continuing risk of torture – a practice known as constructive refoulement.
The IRCT urges the Australian Government to ensure that all asylum seekers receive an individual determination of their asylum claim, including access to a health-based assessment in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol. Moreover, the IRCT calls on the Australian Government to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture, to establish effective mechanisms to identify torture victims among asylum seekers and to give them immediate access to rehabilitation.
“Victims of torture suffer from complicated traumatisation, which has a severe negative impact on all aspects of their life and that of their family members. Holistic rehabilitation, to which they are entitled under international human rights law, can help them rebuild a life after torture. We therefore believe that serious examination ought to be given by the Australian authorities as to how those currently detained in Manus Island will access such services. This is particularly true of those whose health issues have been aggravated by long stays in detention facilities managed or co-managed by the Australian State” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Secretary-General of the IRCT.