More than 800 men still detained on Manus Island are frustrated and angry that they remain in limbo despite getting a share of $70 million in compensation, a lawyer says.
The Australian government and operators of the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre have settled a class action by 1905 current and former detainees for $70 million, plus about $20 million in costs.
A lawyer involved in a separate legal action in Papua New Guinea that may now be withdrawn says the settlement does not change the pressing issue of what happens to the detainees when the Manus centre closes in October.
Greg Toop says the men are in effect still in limbo about their future.
“They really are getting frustrated and angry about things,” Mr Toop told AAP on Thursday.
“A lot of them haven’t got anywhere to go.”
Mr Toop and PNG lawyer Ben Lomai are considering withdrawing their false imprisonment claim against the PNG government so that their clients, who number up to 1000, can receive compensation through the settled Slater and Gordon class action.
Mr Toop said what happens to the approximately 830 men who remain on Manus must still be addressed.
“The money itself is only part of the solution,” he said.
He believed the PNG government genuinely wanted to find a solution, but its hands were tied to a certain extent because the Australian government maintains detainees in Manus and Nauru will not be settled in Australia.
Mr Toop said the United Nations refugee agency must become actively involved.
“They have to start interviewing the detainees and they have to start offering some kind of tangible alternative where they could be resettled.”
Up to 1250 of the refugees on Manus Island and Nauru are expected to be offered resettlement under Australia’s deal with the United States.
About 70 of the Manus detainees have undergone medical examinations and up to 400 have been interviewed as part of the vetting process, Mr Toop said.
“We’re hoping, of course, that will progress as an alternative but it won’t take everybody, and they’re the issues which we need to look at.”
Most of the detainees will not accept resettlement in PNG, he said.
Mr Toop and Mr Lomai had estimated their clients could receive as much as $150 million for false imprisonment after the PNG Supreme Court ruled their detention was illegal.
Most of the $70 million compensation deal is for false imprisonment and tied to the length of time spent in detention, although the class action also claimed damages for physical and psychological injuries linked to the conditions on Manus.
Mr Toop said while the settlement was not in the same range they had predicted, it was a significant amount and the detainees were happy with the outcome.
“The overwhelming view was that, if you like, the guilty party was the Australian government.
“To get that settlement against the Australian government has more impact in their eyes than what we can do with respect to the PNG government.”
The case is due back in the PNG Supreme Court on Monday.