An Australian court has approved a $56 million settlement of a lawsuit brought against the government by nearly 2,000 asylum-seekers who claim to have suffered psychological and physical abuse while being held at a remote Pacific detention center.
The deal, reached back in June and approved Wednesday by Victoria state's Supreme Court, is the largest human rights legal settlement in Australian history.
The lawsuit was brought by 1,905 men who were held at the Manus Island center in Papua New Guinea, which was operated by Australia and two private contractors, between 2012 and 2014. The group was seeking compensation over the harsh conditions at the center as well as false imprisonment after Papua New Guinea's Supreme Court ruled their detention was unconstitutional.
The Australian government and the contractors have also agreed to pay another $26 million in legal fees, but will not admit to liability. The Manus Island facility is scheduled to be shut down next month.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs say the money will be distributed according to length of their detention and the nature of their injuries.
But one Iranian-born refugee told the Australian Broadcasting Company the money would not be enough to compensate for his ordeal, nor to get him off the island. "We're still in the same situation, we are still suffering from the same conditions," he said.
Under a strict immigration policy, Australia blocks asylum-seekers from the Middle East, Africa and Asia from reaching its shores by boat, sending them to Manus Island and another center on the Pacific island nation of Nauru. The policy has come under fire from the United Nations and human rights groups over the indefinite detention of the refugees, who have reportedly suffered abuse and emotional issues.
Australia and the United States reached an agreement late last year, under which most of the detainees would be resettled in the U.S.