Australia has reached a settlement with 1,905 asylum seekers who sued over their treatment in a Papua New Guinea immigration camp. The landmark class action settlement is the largest in the country's history.
The Australian government has offered A$70 million ($53 million, 47 million euros) in compensation after asylum seekers sued after allegedly suffering harm at a camp on Manus Island between 2012 and 2016.
The trial had been scheduled to begin on Wednesday in the Victoria state Supreme Court, but the government decided to settle the class action brought by law firm Slater and Gordon on behalf of the 1,905 refugees and asylum seekers rather than proceed with a potentially long - and embarrassing - trial.
The class action involved 200 witness statements, 200,000 documents and over 50 court dates. The lead plaintiff was 35-year-old Iranian Christian Majid Kamasaee, who fled his homeland to escape violent religious persecution.
The asylum seekers were seeking damages for physical and psychological injuries they argue they suffered as a result of the conditions on the island and false imprisonment.
"While no amount of money could fully recognize the terrible conditions the detainees endured, we hope today's settlement can begin to provide them with an opportunity to help put this dark chapter of their lives behind them," the plaintiffs' lawyer Andrew Baker said, adding that the settlement reflected the "unquestionable importance of access to justice."
The settlement was reached on condition the government was cleared of all liability for the mistreatment and false imprisonment of people on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.
The money will be paid by the government and its offshore detention contractors G4S and Broadspectrum.
Costs will be at least A$20m, Slater and Gordon said, and the total cost could climb beyond A$100 million, an immigration department source told British newspaper The Guardian.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Dutton recently blamed the previous Labor government, which reopened the Manus center in 2012. "To date, Australian taxpayers have paid more than A$13.7 billion to clean up Labor's loss of control of our borders. Today another A$90 million was added to that bill," he said.
The detention center was ruled "illegal and unconstitutional" by the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court in April 2016 and remains operational, housing almost 900 men. Its closure is slated for October. Australia refuses to resettle asylum seekers who arrive by boat and pays the impoverished Pacific island nationals of Papua New Guinea and Nauru to keep hundreds of them from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
The US is considering resettling up to 1,250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru under a deal struck between Australia and President Barack Obama's administration.
jbh/rt (dpa, AP)