REFUGEES in the Manus Island detention facility have written to a former teacher to express their joy after Papua New Guinea officials announced the centre would be closed.
Catholic teacher Jacob Rice received “messages of jubilation” from his former students on the island when a Supreme Court ruling declared the immigration detention centre illegal.
“I have received messages of jubilation and hope from my friends who are imprisoned on Manus Island,” he said.
Mr Rice, who teaches at Mt Alvernia College, Kedron, spent nine months as a fly-in, fly-out English and Maths teacher at the Manus Island centre between 2014 and 2015.
He is among numerous Catholic refugee and asylum seeker advocates and off-shore detention centre whistle-blowers who have called the ruling a “win” for asylum seekers to Australia.
“In Australia we are celebrating the wins while also remembering that this is not the end to the inhumanity as there are still many cruel options available,” Mr Rice said.
Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruled on April 26 that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal.
The court ruled the immigration centre was in breach of the right to personal liberty as stated in the PNG constitution.
PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said in an official statement on April 27 that the processing centre would be closed following the Supreme Court’s judgement.
“Respecting this ruling, Papua New Guinea will immediately ask the Australian Government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers currently held at the regional processing centre,” he said.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the ruling did not change Australia’s position on asylum seekers.
“The situation in relation to Manus Island … the Government’s position is very clear and that is that we are not going to accept people who have sought to come to our country illegally by boat. They will not settle permanently in our country,” Mr Dutton said.
In an interview with Sky News, Mr Dutton also said there was adequate room on Nauru for the 800 men held in detention on Manus Island but the Government was talking with the PNG Government about possible options.
Mr Rice said the issue of asylum seekers coming into Australia would be a contentious issue for voters in the looming Federal election.
“The hope is that it will provide political cover to come up with real solutions for these people,” he said.
“The fear is that this decision will be used to create more fear in the wider public as the upcoming election approaches.”
Mr Rice raised the possibility of opening regional centres rather than off-shore processing to deal with deaths on boats of people hoping to seek asylum in Australia.
“If the Government was serious about maritime safety they would use a regional approach which responds to numbers of displaced people,” he said.
Mr Dutton said there had been no reported deaths since Operation Sovereign Borders commenced in 2013.