Law Text Culture


From 2013 to 2017, nearly 2,000 men who had arrived in Australian territory seeking asylum were forcibly transferred to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and detained at the Manus Regional Processing Centre (MRPC) at the Australian government’s expense. It was unclear how long they would be there. Conditions at the detention centre were difficult in the extreme. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) described them as ‘punitive’, having ‘severely negative impacts on health, and particularly significantly mental health’ (UNHCR Briefing Notes October 12 2018b). Detainees themselves spoke less euphemistically of ‘agony’, ‘humiliation’, and ‘torture’ (Boochani 2016). On this final point the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture agreed (Human Rights Council 2015). By 2016, the UNHCR was finding rates of depression, anxiety, and PTSD affecting over 80 per cent of the incarcerated community, the highest recorded in the medical literature to date (Human Rights Council 2015). Suicide attempts were common. Some, tragically, were successful (ABC News 2018). Both Australia’s transfer policy and the conditions of detention themselves, the UNHCR wrote, ‘do not adequately comply with international laws and standards’ (UNHCR 2016: 1).