Refugees and asylum seekers who arrived on Australia’s shores by boat in recent years were frequently turned away and detained in crumbling old jails on islands of Papua New Guinea, rife with violence and danger.
Now the Australian government will pay those detainees $70 million (AUD) in a settlement brought about after nearly 2,000 detainees sued, saying they had suffered harm while being detained, according to the BBC.
Australia has sent asylum seekers who arrive on its shores without a visa to Nauru Island and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea since 1992. Human rights organizations have long argued that the conditions on the islands are deplorable, leading to violence, sexual assault of minors and adults, inadequate health care, mental health problems, and occasional deaths.
Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for those who arrive without a valid visa.
The United Nations has said the detainment facilities are rife with “inhuman and degrading treatment” for individuals who are typically already fleeing war, poverty, and trauma.
While Australia said it “strongly denied” the claims of 1,905 individuals who were held on Manus Island between 2012 and 2016, the government said settling was a “prudent” decision. The case was going to be heard in Victoria Supreme Court in Australia Wednesday, according to the BBC.
The detainees stuck on the islands have become a political flashpoint for Australia and for international relations. The Australian government has said it won’t accept any of the refugees from the centers into the country, sparking protests.
The United States agreed to accept some of the refugees under President Barack Obama, but the agreement became a point of contention between President Donald Trump of the US and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull when Trump took office in January.
The US announced this week it will accept the 1,250 refugees, subject to new vetting processes.
While the conditions on the island have been abhorrent, the idea of detaining refugees while their cases are processed has been a deterrent to unwelcome immigrants, according to the BBC.