By Nikala Sim
The fate of 421 refugees and asylum-seekers will be determined in the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea tomorrow week (Wednesday 22/11).
The court will address an appeal by lawyer Ben Lomai, on behalf of Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani, after an initial application was rejected by Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia last Tuesday.
That application sought a return of basic amenities to the recently-closed Manus Regional Processing Centre (MRPC) and the cessation of a push to remove men from the centre.
October 31 saw the Australian and Papua New Guinean governments withdraw all support for the resident refugees and asylum-seekers including food, water, security, medical care, electricity and sanitation.
Sir Injia denied the return of services and upheld the relocation of the men to alternative facilities on Manus Island.
The appeal expands upon the initial application for return of services to, and right-to-remain at, the closed processing centre.
“Despite the refusal of injunctive orders we are instructed that under no circumstances the applicant and other asylum seekers will [sic] vacate the Centre voluntarily, at whatever costs,” Dr Lomai said.
“The Chief Justice failed to have regard for outbreaks of propaganda-fuelled violence by local youths towards asylum-seekers and refugees, in the island’s main town of Lorengau.”
One machete attack saw a man evacuated to Port Moresby for surgery after his arm was slashed to the bone by a machete.
Another saw an asylum-seeker emergency air-lifted to Australia with serious head injuries.
There was also the 2014 attack upon the centre which saw Iranian man Reza Barati murdered, and the more recent Good Friday incident this year when armed drunken Papua New Guinean navy personnel indiscriminately shot over 100 bullets into the centre and tried to ram a vehicle through the front gate.
The planned take-over of the centre by the Papua New Guinean navy raised the real prospect of violence, conflict and loss of life, Dr Lomai said.
“The safety of both the refugees and government workers plus staff of leading agencies is not to be taken for granted given the tension that is now being expressed by the locals on Manus Island.”
Deployment of the notorious para-military mobile squad raised this possibility even further, he said.
“The current situation at the MRPC and on Manus Island is now totally out of control and fears of a looming “blood bath” are mounting by the day.”
In his judgement last week, Chief Justice Sir Injia relied upon photographic evidence that two newly-built facilities on the island were complete, and of a standard, for the relocation of the 421 men.
The application tomorrow will request a physical inspection of those facilities and the existing East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre and the ceased MRPC which is the focus of global concern.
Amnesty International, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Human Rights Council and Australian Human Rights Commission, amongst others, have all raised concern about a humanitarian emergency at the closed Manus facility.
On the back of an offer of resettlement from New Zealand, the appeal also requests that Mr Boochani be provided with appropriate documents to travel to a third country of his choice within one week.
If the court action is successful refugees and asylum-seekers will be able to seek resettlement outside of Papua New Guinea, excluding Australia which refuses to allow them to enter.