Lawyer Prepares To Assist Manus Detainees Appeal Negative Determinations Amid Confusion About Processing


A Papua New Guinean court has indicated asylum seekers detained on Manus Island have a right to appeal negative refugee determinations in front of a national court, according to a lawyer running a case on behalf of the men.

Ben Lomai, the Papua New Guinean lawyer spearheading a Supreme Court challenge to indefinite detention on Manus Island, said the Court yesterday indicated those in the centre who have had their applications for refugee status turned down by the Minister for Immigration have a right to legally challenge the decision.

While the issue is a tangent to Lomai’s broader case, which alleges the detention of the men on Manus is a breach of constitutional and human rights, it could help provide clarification about the murky process asylum seekers go through when applying to be accepted as refugees by PNG.

Men detained on Manus told refugee advocates in Australia this week that they understood their right to appeal negative determinations – a step that would precede any judicial review – had been withdrawn, making it less likely they would be found to be refugees.

While New Matilda has not been able to independently verify the reports, refugee advocates were told by a number of men in the centre that a meeting took place on Tuesday morning where asylum seekers were informed they would no longer be able to appeal an initial negative decision.

PNG’s Department of Immigration failed to respond to questions sent by New Matilda, while private contractor Playfair, which provides assistance with processing, did likewise.

UPDATE: a further asylum seeker in the meeting has contradicted the accounts of those who claimed the chance to appeal a negative determination would no longer be offered.

According to Lomai, yesterday’s appearance before the Supreme Court made clear men applying for refugee status are entitled to a further review of their case before the nation’s courts if the Minister rejects their claim.

“When I brought the issue up the judge agreed with me that [the men]had to be given the opportunity to review the decision by the Minister,” he said.

No asylum seekers who has received a negative determination has yet been able to challenge it in a PNG court, Lomai told New Matilda, adding that he would soon begin assisting the men to make their cases.

“There are other lawyers willing to help,” he said.

Deportation and review rights have become major issues on Manus in recent months, with questions raised about the adequacy of the process the men go through before pressure is put on them to return home or they are forcibly deported.

Rates of success for asylum seekers applying for refugee status on Manus are far lower than those on Nauru, and well below the historically high rates seen in applications on the Australian mainland. It is not immediately clear why this is the case.

Elaine Pearson, Director of Human Rights Watch Australia, visited Manus earlier  in the year, and recently told a public forum there were concerns about the lack of access to lawyers for men going through the process.

“Part of the problem is that we have very little information about the process. We are concerned that there isn’t proper legal representation,” she said. “Yes, asylum seekers have had assistance from migration agents to help them put together their documents and interviews but some of the refugees we spoke to said it really was just a very cursory interview.”

Not a single refugee has been resettled in PNG since Australia and its northern neighbour signed a resettlement deal in July 2013.

Lomai’s case has been adjourned until September 7. Initially hopeful it would conclude by the end of the year he said he is now confident it will run into 2016.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.