A FORMER Manus Island teacher says a huge class action against the Federal Government on behalf of 1900 asylum seekers detained on the island was “not about the money”.
“All they wanted was to be free, and not to be tortured any more,” Brisbane Catholic teacher Jacob Rice, who taught on Manus Island for nine months until 2015 and witnessed the degrading and cruel conditions suffered by asylum seekers in detention, said. “For all the people that I know, it is not about the money.”
On June 14, the Australian Government and the Manus Island detention centre contractors agreed to pay out $70 million for physical injuries and mental health illnesses to asylum seekers held at the centre between 2012 and 2016.
The case is believed to be the largest human rights class action settlement in Australian history.
Mr Rice remains in contact with asylum seekers, and recalls the pressure they were under when the class action was launched.
“For some of the asylum seekers on Manus there was a dilemma about whether to sign up for class action,” he said.
Mr Rice recalls some of the detainees telling him: “All we want is for them (the Australian Government) to make a call – either you want us and we will come and join your country, or you don’t want us, and then we have other places to apply.”
Mr Rice’s witness account is at odds with comments made by Senator Pauline Hanson, who accused the class action participants of being driven by the payout.
“They were claiming to be mistreated, and because of mental conditions … Excuses why there should actually be a class action against us to get … money. That’s what it’s about,” Senator Hanson said. “We’re being taken for fools.
“I’m sick and tired of the bloody do-gooders that are actually pushing this bandwagon.”
The law firm behind the class action said the asylum seekers endured hostile conditions, many fleeing religious persecution and violence.
“This is not an environment that any person with another safe option would choose to live in,” Slater and Gordon principal lawyer Andrew Baker said in a statement.
Lead plaintiff Majid Kamasaee described the Manus Island detention centre as “hell”.
“I was in pain every minute of every day and I cried every night until I had nothing left,” he said.
“The way we were treated at the Manus Island detention centre was degrading and cruel, but sadly, many of my friends are still there.”
Another detainee Benham Satah questioned what compensation would be given to the families of detainees who had died while on Manus Island.
“I wish that the court will give some compensation to their families as well,” he said.
The settlement details in the class action will be confidential and subject to court approval.