PNG court quashes detainees' last-ditch Manus bid

Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court has rejected an application to restore operations at the now-decommissioned Manus Island processing centre, further increasing pressure on the almost 600 men who have been refusing to relocate to three new "transit centres".

The last-ditch application, filed last week by lawyers representing Iranian refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani, sought to re-establish the compound's power, water, food, sanitation and medical services, arguing their termination was in breach of the PNG constitution's human rights protections.

Declining to issue the injunction, Chief Justice Salami Injia said "there is no real good reason why [the detainees] should not voluntarily move" to the new facilities. He declared that Boochani's rights "may have been breached" by the Manus closure but that he should seek damages from PNG and Australian authorities instead.

He also said the Australian government's responsibility for the welfare of the asylum seekers "ended with the closure of the [Manus regional processing centre], which it operated, and it falls squarely on the government of PNG to take full responsibility".

Men protest their treatment at the Manus Island processing centre. Photo: AAP

Men protest their treatment at the Manus Island processing centre. Photo: AAP

Ben Lomai, the lawyer representing Boochani, is hoping to appeal the court's decision as soon as Wednesday and said the restoration of services was increasingly urgent given the centre had been shut down for more than a week.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday the new facilities were of a "very high quality" and urged the detainees to move. He also criticised activists and Greens senator Nick McKim, accusing them of encouraging the detainees to defy the wishes of local authorities.

The stand-off has been labelled an "unfolding humanitarian emergency" by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The men have been stockpiling rainwater in garbage bins, lost access to medication and authorities have reportedly been turning away PNG locals coming to the centre offering food.

While some have moved, almost 600 men continue to protest, citing fears for their safety closer to the main town of Lorengau, the condition of the new facilities, and their desperation for permanent resettlement in a third country.

Amnesty International, which has had two researchers on Manus Island in recent days, said services should be restored immediately and the men must not be moved.

"The decision is an abhorrent attack on the right to life," Amnesty's Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said.

"If authorities don't act immediately, there is a real risk that the situation will catastrophically deteriorate. The lives of these men, who are only asking for their rights to dignity and safety, are at serious risk."

With Melbourne Cup race day under way at Flemington Racecourse, protesters scaled a crane and drove a car onto train tracks, temporarily suspending services, to protest the treatment of the Manus detainees.

They unfurled banners demanding the immediate evacuation of the centre and accusing Australia of condoning cruelty to people and animals.

Five days ago, United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said many of the men "would not find adequate or sufficient accommodation elsewhere" if all 600 were to relocate and described one of the new facilities as "incomplete".

Mr Turnbull encouraged detainees to "comply with the lawful requests and requirements of the PNG authorities" and said people who have not attained refugee status should return to their countries of origin.

"The residents at Manus, the [regional processing centre], they have been asked to move and they should move," he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

PNG immigration minister Petrus Thomas said on the weekend it is "no longer possible" to restore services at the Manus compound and insisted the new facilities were ready and secure.

Elaine Pearson, Australia director of Human Rights Watch, said: "Moving hundreds of men to a town where refugees have been beaten, stabbed and robbed is incredibly irresponsible."

Tweeting from inside the centre, Boochani said "we won't leave this prison for another prison" and demanded freedom and safety for the detainees.

PNG's defence force has warned that it may forcibly evict the detainees if the situation continues to escalate.

This story PNG court quashes detainees' last-ditch Manus bid first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.