The Manus Regional Processing Centre is one of many offshore Australian immigration detention facilities. The Centre was operated by Broadspectrum (formerly known as Transfield Services) on behalf of the Australian government, until Ferrovial bought out the company and its contract in April 2016. The Centre is located on the PNG Navy Base Lombrum (previously a Royal Australian Navy base called HMAS Tarangau) on Los Negros Island in Manus Province, Papua New Guinea. It was formally closed on 31 October 2017, however hundreds of detainees refused to leave.
The Pacific Solution
The centre was originally established on 21 October 2001, as one of two Offshore Processing Centres (OPC). The other OPC was the Nauru detention centre. The OPC facilities were part of what became known as the “Pacific Solution”, a policy of the Howard Government in Australia, which was implemented in the wake of the Tampa affair. The policy involved the excision of Australian external territories (Christmas Island, Ashmore and Cartier Islands and Cocos (Keeling) Island) and other islands in the Pacific Ocean—from the Australian migration zone. Unlawful maritime arrivals (boat people without visas seeking asylum in Australia) who arrived at these excised territories were transferred to the OPC facilities where they would stay while their claims for asylum were processed. The centres were managed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM)
The Manus Regional Processing Centre fell into disuse in preference to the Nauru centre. In July 2003, the immigration department announced that the centre would be wound down and the remaining detainees would be granted asylum and resettled in Australia, however the centre would continue to be maintained in case the need for reactivation arose.
Aladdin Sisalem, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian, fled Kuwait in 2000 and in December 2002 arrived at an island in the Torres Strait where he claimed asylum, and was sent to the Manus centre. For ten months, Sisalem was the sole detainee at the centre, with a small staff of guards and cleaners for company. In May 2004, he was resettled in Melbourne.
With the election of the Rudd Labor Government in 2007, the Manus Regional Processing Centre was formally closed in early 2008,fulfilling an election promise by Rudd to end the offshore processing system.
Main article: PNG solution
In 2012, a significant rise in the number of irregular maritime arrivals saw the “asylum issue” become a political liability for the government. The Gillard Government commissioned Angus Houston, former Chief of the Defence Force, to lead an expert panel to conduct a review of asylum arrangements. Among the 22 recommendations made in the Houston report was one to re-open the OPC facilities on Nauru and at the Manus Regional Processing Centre.
In November 2012, the Manus Regional Processing Centre was re-opened by the Labor government, due to the large volume of irregular maritime arrivals. Then Immigration Minister Chris Bowen stated “At this stage, family groups are best accommodated on Manus Island, as opposed to Nauru”. The British services company G4S was responsible for its operation. In March 2014, the contract with G4S expired, and the Australian government entered into a 20-month contract worth AUD $1.22 billion with Broadspectrum (which operates the facility in Nauru) for facilities management including building maintenance and catering, with security provided by Wilson Security.
Death of Hamid Kehazaei
On 24 August 2014, 24 year old Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei sought medical treatment at the detention centre’s clinic for an infected wound. Kehazaei’s condition worsened and he could not be treated on the island. Medical staff sought his immediate evacuation, but permission was not granted until 26 August. Kehazaei was declared brain dead in a Brisbane hospital on 2 September 2016. With his family’s permission, his life-support was switched off on 5 September 2016. An inquest into Kehazaei’s death began in the Coroner’s Court in Brisbane on 28 November 2016. The article “The day my friend Hamid Kehazaei died”, written by Behrouz Boochani, tells the story of Kehazaei’s death.
On 26 April 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea found that the Centre breached the PNG constitution’s right to personal liberty, and was thus illegal. It said:
“ Both the Australian and Papua New Guinea governments shall forthwith take all steps necessary to cease and prevent the continued unconstitutional and illegal detention of the asylum seekers or transferees at the relocation centre on Manus Island …” ”
Late on 27 April 2016, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill announced that the processing centre would be closed, saying his government “will immediately ask the Australian Government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers” and that “we did not anticipate the asylum seekers to be kept as long as they have been at the Manus Centre”. He said that Papua New Guinea was proud to play an important role in stopping the loss of life due to people smuggling. O’Neill said negotiations with Australia would focus on the timeframe for the closure and for the settlement of legitimate refugees interested in staying in Papua New Guinea.
US resettlement deal
In November 2016 it was announced that a deal had been made with the United States to resettle people in detention on Manus (and Nauru) Islands.
Alleged Defence Force attack
On 14 April 2017, asylum seekers and centre staff alleged they had been shot at by locals. Ray Numa, Chief of Staff of the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, confirmed that staff at Lombrum Naval Base were investigating the involvement of PNG defence personnel in the attacks, stressing that misuse of weapons was a serious breach of military discipline, and that the police would prosecute any members breaching civil laws.
A class action suit on behalf of persons detained on Manus Island from 21 November 2012 until 19 December 2014, and 21 November 2012 until 12 May 2016 was brought by lead plaintiff Majid Karami Kamasaee against the Commonwealth of Australia, G4S Australia and Broadspectrum. The claim was in negligence and false imprisonment. Kamasaee was represented by law firm Slater and Gordon.
Slater and Gordon reached a settlement with the Commonwealth of Australia, G4S Australia and Broadspectrum on 14 June 2017 for $70 million plus costs (estimated at $20 million), with no admission of liability. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the settlement was not an admission of liability and the Commonwealth strongly refuted and denied the claims brought in the class action.
The Centre was formally closed on 31 October 2017. However, nearly 600 men refused to leave the centre claiming “.., to fear for their safety…”, according to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton. A notice posted during the night by PNG Immigration authorities said “The Manus RPC will close at 5 pm today” (31 October), and that all power, water and food supply would cease. The PNG military is to retake control of the area. Alternative accommodation has been provided at the East Lorengau Refugee Transit Centre and West Lorengau Haus.