Papua New Guinea has forcibly returned an asylum seeker to Iran, even as a court case was under way to stop his removal.The 27-year-old man – whose name Guardian Australia has chosen not to publish – had been held on Manus Island for more than two years. He was removed from the detention centre’s Oscar compound last Thursday and put in solitary confinement.
Before being deported, he wrote and signed a letter that read: “Not leaving the compound that I am living in and/or not wish to be returned to my country of origin against my will.”
The man’s asylum claim was initially rejected, and he refused to participate in a second review, arguing the process was unfair.
Six guards escorted him to Tehran, including two Australians. None was in uniform. The man was allowed by Iranian authorities to return to his home, but reported having his passport seized and was ordered to report to police.
Lawyer Ben Lomai, who appeared before the PNG supreme court on Thursday, challenging the detention of asylum seekers on the grounds that it is unconstitutional, told Guardian Australia he had sought an injunction “to stop refoulement” of asylum seekers while the case was being heard.
The man deported is one of more than 300 asylum seekers for whom Lomai is acting.
“I am very disappointed, very angry, that this is being done in this covert way. The government should be dealing with these asylum seekers in a manner which is transparent and fair, not secretly deporting them,” Lomai said.
“The case is already on foot, the government should respect the process.”
The PNG constitution guarantees “liberty of the person”, “right to freedom of movement” and “freedom from inhuman treatment”, as well as the right of access to PNG courts and to a lawyer.
Lomai argues asylum seekers have been denied these fundamental rights, and the state is required to release the men and compensate them.
He said the government’s decision to deport a man while his case was under way could be in contempt. The case continues before the PNG supreme court on Friday.
In recent weeks asylum seekers on Manus Island have been told they will be deported “as soon as practicable” if their claim for refugee status and any subsequent appeal fails.
Documents issued by PNG’s Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority warned stateless asylum seekers, or those who cannot be returned to their home country, that they would be held in detention indefinitely, until they managed to secure a visa to another country.
“If you choose to depart voluntarily, you will be eligible for Assisted Voluntary Return and reintegration assistance from the Internal Organisation for Migration ,” the document said. “If you are involuntarily removed, you will receive no financial assistance.”
People issued with a removal notice would be kept in detention and “may be held in any location, including correctional institutions, while your removal is being effected”.
In a section headed “Do I have any other options?” the document stated “No”.
“You do not have the option of remaining in Papua New Guinea,” it said. “You do not have the option of going to Australia. You will never go to Australia.”