Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on its Manus Island are "unconstitutional and illegal" and that they must stop.
The court said the detentions are contrary asylum seekers' "constitutional right of personal liberty," and ordered the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea to "take all steps necessary to cease and prevent" the continued detentions and transfers of refugees to Manus.
Australia, under its immigration laws, has been sending asylum-seekers who try to enter the country by boat to remote processing centres on Manus or the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, and it doesn’t allow them resettlement in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees.
There are around 850 people detained in Manus and around 500 people in Nauru on behalf of Australia.
Australian Minister for Immigration Peter Dutton said the court ruling would not change their policy of offshore detention.
"No one who attempts to travel to Australia illegally by boat will settle in Australia," Dutton said in a statement.
"Those in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre found to be refugees are able to resettle in Papua New Guinea. Those found not to be refugees should return to their country of origin."
Under agreements by both sides, asylum seekers who are found to be refugees are urged to return home or resettle in Papua New Guinea or Cambodia.
Human rights critics
Australia has been under sharp international criticism from human rights groups and refugee advocates including the United Nations for its divisive refugee policy.
Elaine Pearson, Australia Director at Human Rights Watch said, "PNG's Supreme Court has recognised that detaining people who have committed no crime is wrong."
"It's time for the Manus detention centre to be closed once and for all."
GetUp! human rights campaigner Aurora Adams said some people had been detained for almost three years and needed to be brought to Australia.
"It is time to stop the abuse of vulnerable people who only ask for safety and the opportunity to rebuild their lives," she said.
"The moral case is clear, there is no justification for locking people in offshore prison camps indefinitely."
Australia defends its refugee policy saying it prevents deaths of people at sea. Under the previous Labor government, at least 1,200 people had died at sea between 2008 and 2013.
The court ruling could open way to detained people make damage claims, according to the Australian Lawyers Alliance.
"The decision also strengthens claims that Australia has breached its duty of care to those who come within its migration system by keeping them in conditions that are unlawful," ALA spokesman Greg Barns said in a statement.