The Australian government on Wednesday confirmed it has agreed to settle and pay damages to nearly 2,000 refugees who have been imprisoned in the nation's detention center in the Manus Island, in what has been described as one of the largest human rights settlements in Australia's history.
The action was brought by law firm Slater and Gordon, on behalf of the men who were detained on the island between November 2012 and December 2014, against the Commonwealth of Australia and its contracted service providers G4S and Broadspectrum (formerly known as Transfield). Following a 2015 UN report on Australian human rights abuses towards asylum seekers, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asserted that Australians were "sick of being lectured to by the United Nations", dismissing claims of abuse.
The lead plaintiff in the case was an Iranian, Majid Karami Kamasaee, 35, who spent 11 months on Manus Island in 2013-14.
The lawyers 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 alleged they had suffered.
The Australian government announced in August 2016 it would close the Manus Island center, although there has been no update on when exactly it might happen.
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.
Baker emphasized that most migrants left their countries due to religious prosecution and violence, but faced mistreatment and hostile conditions in the Manus Island detention center.
"Today another 90 million (Australian dollars) was added to that bill with the settlement of the Manus class action", Dutton said.
The government did not admit liability and Slater and Gordon lawyer Rory Walsh said the government denied it was responsible for any false imprisonment.
"They settled to make it go away so I think that does give a fairly good indication that even the government thinks the treatment of people in detention was not satisfactory by existing legal standard", he said.
Mr Baker said there have been countless stories about the appalling and inhumane conditions the detainees were allegedly subjected to, and the security issues have been well documented.
David Manne, the executive director of Refugee Legal, said the government's decision to settle was indication it believed the case against them was strong and its chances of successfully defending the offshore detention regime were slim.
"Money can't bring back my four years I spent in hell", one refugee told BuzzFeed.
"Whilst the compensation is important, it does not give [these men] what they wanted in the first place", Karapanagiotidis told Al Jazeera.
"We came to Australia legally seeking protection under worldwide laws but were exiled by force to this island and imprisoned for four years", he said.
"No compensation is going to give these men what they want, which is freedom from harm".