Australia court rejects challenge to PNG asylum deal

Asylum seekers are housed at the Manus Island Regional Processing Facility, seen here in this 2012 handout photo. Violent riots took place at the Manus Regional Processing Centre in February this year

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Australia's High Court has ruled that sending asylum seekers to be processed offshore in Papua New Guinea does not breach the constitution.

Lawyers for an Iranian asylum seeker argued that PNG's designation as an offshore processing centre was illegal under the Migration Act.

But the judges rejected the claims.

Conditions in the camp, and in another centre on Nauru, have been the subject of stringent criticism from both UN agencies and human rights groups.

The Iranian man arrived on Australia's Christmas Island by boat last July. He was then transferred to the Manus Island Detention Centre .

His lawyers also claimed that his removal from Christmas Island was illegal.

''It's devastating for our client,'' his lawyer Mark Robinson said. ''It means that he has to remain in Papua New Guinea in terrible conditions."

A boat carrying asylum seekers spotted off Indonesia sailing towards Australian waters The number of migrants arriving by boat has dropped
Protesters carry placards at a rally in Sydney on 29 September, 2013 The issue of asylum seekers has divided Australians
In this photograph taken on 8 February, 2014, a detained woman and child asylum seeker from Pakistan gather in western Java island after they were turned back by the Australian Navy Boats are increasing being turned back to Indonesia by the Australian navy
Prime Minister Tony Abbott during the house of representatives Question time on 17 June, 2014 in Canberra, Australia Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomed Wednesday's court ruling

The much-criticised policy was introduced by the Australian government in 2012.

It has the broad support of both of Australia's main political parties.

But rights groups have questioned whether Australia is adequately protecting vulnerable people.

Riots have broken out at the Manus centre on several occasions.

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Australia-PNG Regional Resettlement Arrangement
  • Papua New Guinea undertakes to accept unauthorised maritime arrivals for processing and, if successful in their application for refugee status, resettlement
  • Persons found not to be refugees may be held in detention or returned to their home country or a country where they had right of residence
  • Australia will provide support to any refugees who are resettled in Papua New Guinea
  • Australia will bear the full cost of implementing the arrangement in Papua New Guinea
  • The programme will be for 12 months and will be subject to review on an annual basis
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The ruling comes as a victory for the current conservative Australian government, says the BBC's Jon Donnison in Sydney.

The government has have championed the policy and has been largely successful in reducing the number of asylum seekers, he says.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott welcomed the court's decision.

"We haven't had a successful people smuggling venture to Australia in almost six months and obviously I'm pleased those policies have passed muster," he said.

"This is a government that is determined to stop the boats so we've put a range of policies in place."

Immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young maintained the Manus Island detention centre was not safe for asylum seekers.

"Dumping refugees in unsafe conditions on Manus Island may be constitutional but it's certainly not morally acceptable and is still in breach of international law," she said.

"What remains true is that these camps of cruelty are inhumane, unsafe and untenable for refugees."

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