Nearly 2,000 asylum seekers held in a remote detention centre in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for more than two years will receive $70 million Australian dollars ($53M) in compensation after Canberra on Wednesday agreed to settle their court case.
The asylum seekers were detained at the facility between November 2012 and December 2014. They filed legal claims last year against the Australian government and two contractors who ran the detention camp for Australia on PNG's Manus Island.
The camp is one of two facilities Australia uses to process asylum seekers offshore. The United Nations and rights groups have criticised the camps because of their harsh conditions and allegations of systemic abuse.
Lawyers from the Slater & Gordon firm representing the men said the Australian government and security companies G4S and Broadspectrum, now owned by Ferrovial, would collectively pay the compensation.
They said the compensation would be distributed among the former and current detainees according to the length of their detention and the severity of the injuries and illnesses they allege they suffered. The government would also pay court costs, the lawyers told a news conference in Melbourne.
The Australian government confirmed the settlement, which it said it entered into to save taxpayers the expense of a costly trial.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton described settling the case as a "prudent" decision.
The settlement removes a major impediment to Australia ending its controversial offshore detention scheme, under which would-be asylum seekers who arrive by boat are held indefinitely in the two Pacific detention centres. The other is on the tiny and remote island of Nauru.
Australia says it plans to close the Manus Island camp but has not specified when.
Australia agreed on a refugee resettlement deal with the United States late last year, under which the bulk of those detained at the two camps would be relocated and Australia in turn would settle refugees from Central America.
US President Donald Trump has begrudgingly agreed to honour that deal, agreed by his predecessor Barack Obama, despite calling it "dumb."
Australia says after the US resettlement occurs it will no longer be responsible for the asylum seekers on Manus Island or Nauru.
Many of the claimants awarded the settlement remain on Manus Island, while others have returned home.
Majid Kamasaee, the original plaintiff in the case, was one of those who agreed to return to his native Iran.
Kamasaee said he voluntarily left Manus Island because he was denied adequate medical care for a serious skin condition.
"When I arrived on Manus they confiscated my medicine. Every day in the harsh sun my skin felt like it was on fire," Kamasaee said in a statement read out by lawyer Ebony Birchall.
"The scars got worse and then developed growths. I was in pain every minute of every day on Manus Island," he said.