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© Reuters. Makeshift sleeping areas are seen inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea© Reuters. Makeshift sleeping areas are seen inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A Papua New Guinea court has given hundreds of asylum-seekers who were held for years in a controversial Australian detention center the right to sue the PNG government for compensation, Australian media reported on Saturday.

Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court rejected an attempt by the PNG government to stop the asylum-seekers seeking compensation on Friday, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

The government had tried to argue that the time frame for such attempts to sue for compensation had passed but the court rejected its application.

“The finding opens the way to a major compensation and also for consequential orders against both the PNG and Australian governments,” Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul told Australian Associated Press.

The decision comes two months after the PNG government closed the detention center on remote Manus Island, which had housed about 400 male asylum-seekers.

Conditions in the camp, and another on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, have been widely criticized by the United Nations and human rights groups.

The two camps have been cornerstones of Australia’s contentious immigration policy, under which it refuses to allow asylum-seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores.

The policy, aimed at deterring people from making a perilous sea voyage to Australia, has bipartisan political support.

The closure of the Manus island camp, criticized by the United Nations as “shocking”, caused chaos, with the men refusing to leave the compound for fear of being attacked by Manus island residents.

Staff left the closed compound and the men were left without food, water, power or medical support before they were expelled and moved to a transit camp.

Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court declared in 2016 that the detention of asylum-seekers on behalf of the Australian government was illegal and that it breached asylum-seekers’ fundamental human rights.

The asylum-seekers will now go back to court in February to seek orders from Australia and Papua New Guinea for them to be settled in a safe third country.

The United States announced on Friday that it had agreed to accept about 200 more refugees from Manus island and Nauru under a deal struck between Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former U.S. President Barack Obama.

Another 50 refugees had already been accepted as part of the deal, under which Australia agreed to accept refugees from Central America. U.S President Donald Trump has called the deal “dumb”.

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