Australia asylum: PNG judge probes rights at detention camp

File photo: A man walking between tents at Australia's regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea Around 30 asylum seekers at Manus Island will testify at the inquiry

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Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court has begun a human rights inquiry into Australia's immigration detention centre on Manus Island.

The probe will assess whether the centre's conditions meet human rights requirements under PNG's constitution.

It comes ahead of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's visit to PNG on Thursday.

In February, one asylum seeker was killed and dozens were injured after violence erupted at the centre.

Australia sends asylum seekers arriving by boat for detention and processing in offshore camps in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific territory of Nauru.

Conditions in these camps have been strongly criticised by UN agencies and rights groups.

Tough stance

Reports say the investigation, initiated by PNG judge David Cannings, will examine what human rights, if any, the asylum seekers have, whether they are being granted those rights, and if not, how their rights can be protected.

Around 30 asylum seekers will testify at the inquiry, PNG newspaper the Post-Courier reported.

People attend a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers, in Sydney on 23 February 2014 Candlelight vigils were held in Australia in response to the asylum seeker's death

Both PNG and Australia launched investigations after violent clashes broke out at the centre on 16 and 17 February, the latter clash leaving one asylum seeker dead and 77 others injured.

Australia and asylum

  • Asylum-seekers - mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran - travel to Australia's Christmas Island on rickety boats from Indonesia
  • The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and dozens of people have died making the journey
  • The Labor government reintroduced offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea - conditions in its detention camps there have been condemned by UN agencies and rights groups
  • It also reached a deal with PNG that any asylum seekers found to be refugees would be resettled in PNG, not Australia
  • The Tony Abbott-led Liberal-National coalition government, elected in September 2013, introduced "Operation Sovereign Borders", putting the military in control of asylum operations
  • In January reports emerged of Australian navy vessels turning asylum boats back to Indonesia - the UN refugee agency says such tow-backs may breach international law
  • In January, Australia apologised for multiple violations of Indonesia's territorial waters by navy vessels on asylum operations
  • Relatively small numbers of asylum seekers are involved: UNHCR's Asylum Trends 2012 report said Australia received only 3% of global asylum applications in 2012

The first incident reportedly came after detainees were told that they would not be resettled in Australia.

There were conflicting reports about what sparked the second outbreak of violence, and exactly where and how the asylum seeker, Iranian Reza Barati, died.

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison initially said that the violence happened after asylum seekers breached fences at the detention centre.

He later revised his statement, saying that the clashes largely took place inside the camp's perimeters.

Refugee advocates say the asylum-seekers were attacked inside the camp by local people and security personnel.

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott will visit PNG from Thursday to Saturday, in his first visit to the country since becoming prime minister.

The Manus Island detention centre is expected to dominate his talks with PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.

In recent months Australia has taken a very tough stance in a bid to halt the flow of asylum seekers, who arrive by boat via Indonesia.

Under a new policy, people found to be refugees will be settled in Papua New Guinea rather than Australia.

Polls suggest a majority of Australians support the government's approach.

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