Asylum seekers unaware of rights: inquiry
|Manus Island detention centre. (Photo: AAP)|
March 21, 2014
Detainees at an Australian asylum seeker centre have told a Papua New Guinea court they were not made aware of their right to free legal representation.
Asylum seekers have told a Papua New Guinea court they were not made aware of their right to free legal representation, as the judge refused to allow an Australian lawyer to represent 75 detainees at the inquiry.
However, Justice David Cannings granted Amnesty International leave to join the case as an interested party, and ruled that media be given access to the centre on Friday.
During the fourth day of hearings into human rights obligations at Australia's detention centre on Manus Island, the court has heard transferees were not told of their right to free representation under PNG law.
A 26-year-old Burmese asylum seeker told the court he had not spoken to a lawyer in six months.
"I was not told I could have a lawyer," he said on Thursday.
Under PNG law, anyone who is locked up has the right to free legal advice.
He said he had one interview with an Australian lawyer and two with immigration officials shortly after arriving on Manus Island in August or September.
But he said he had heard nothing since.
At the time, an Australian lawyer at the centre took his statement.
"She said she would do the processing (of his asylum claim)," he said.
Justice Cannings on Thursday refused Sydney lawyer Jay Williams' request to represent 75 asylum seekers detained at the Manus facility.
Mr Williams argued that under PNG's constitution and the Lawyers Act of 1986, judges had the power to admit anyone they wished under exceptional circumstances.
"We have made many requests to the migration officer to visit my clients but those requests have been delayed, frustrated or refused," Mr Williams said.
While Justice Cannings agreed PNG's constitution granted the right of representation, he would not grant Mr Williams' request because the circumstances were not exceptional.
But he did grant Mr Williams' request to visit his clients on Friday.
Justice Cannings also accepted an application by Amnesty International to join the case as an interested party.
Amnesty is expected to tender its recent, highly critical report of the centre as evidence.
So far, 11 asylum seekers have appeared at the inquiry in Lorengau, the Manus capital.
In each of the men's affidavits, the court struck out mention of the February 17 riot that claimed the life of 23-year-old Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati.
Many of the transferees who have appeared in the past two days have indicated the riots made them feel less safe.
A 22-year-old Iranian man told the court he felt as if he was in a prison, and had almost forgotten his name after months of being referred to by his identification number.
He said he felt terrorised by some staff at the centre.
"The expats always tell us the people here are poor and cannibals," he said.
"That's how they terrorise us."