Asylum seeker who lost an eye during Manus violence launches legal action against Commonwealth and G4S

1 July 2014
An asylum seeker who lost his right eye and suffered serious facial injuries after being struck by a rock during the violence at Manus Island in February is taking legal action against the Commonwealth for failing to ensure the safety of people housed in the detention centre.

The man, who is aged in his mid-30s and cannot be named for legal reasons, is also suing detention centre operators G4S, saying it did not provide adequate fencing or security at his compound, and failed to implement an emergency plan with sufficient staff properly trained to deal with the unrest.

Social justice law firm Maurice Blackburn will today file proceedings in the Victorian Supreme Court on behalf of the asylum seeker, who is known by the pseudonym RN.

RN fled his country of origin in 2013, fearing for his life at the hands of security forces. The Supreme Court granted him permission to use a pseudonym for the court action, after RN said he feared publication of his name could put him and his family in danger.

Jane McDermott, a principal at Maurice Blackburn, said the Commonwealth and G4S had failed in their duties to protect RN while he was in their care at the Manus Island detention centre.

“On the evening of 17 February 2014, our client was injured after people, including locals and others, broke into his compound and started attacking the people who were housed there. He sustained severe head trauma, rupturing his right eye and facial fractures,” she said.

“Our client was flown to the Mater Hospital in Brisbane for urgent treatment including surgery, but his right eye could not be saved and had to be removed.  He also had a titanium plate and screws inserted to fix the broken bones in his face.”

In addition to the physical injuries, Ms McDermott said RN was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He is still being assessed for acquired brain injury.

“Our client has suffered enormously, both physically and psychologically, because of what we say is the failure of the Commonwealth and G4S to provide a safe and secure environment for people at the Manus Island detention centre,” she said.

“What happened on Manus Island in February, with the tragic death of Reza Barati and the injuring of more than 60 people including our client, raises very serious questions about the safety and security of the offshore detention centre.”

RN continues to require medical treatment, and will soon be fitted with a prosthetic eye. He is now at the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney, but fears he could be sent back to Manus at any time. He said of the violence and his injuries:

“I was inside when the attack started. I went outside to see what was happening. When I went outside, I was hit in the right eye with a rock. I knew straight away that my eye had been badly damaged.

“I got back to my room. I heard gunshots and screaming.  I hid under the bed in fear and heard people being dragged from their rooms.  When the noise eased, I came out from under the bed to seek medical attention, but I was dizzy and fainted on the floor.

“I was taken to an ambulance and driven to a medical centre. I was in severe pain. I was transferred to Port Moresby and then to hospital in Brisbane.

“I have not felt very good, either physically or mentally, since I was brought to Villawood. I feel dizzy constantly and the conditions here are very noisy and crowded. Psychologically I can’t last in this place.”

Maurice Blackburn has obtained medical evidence that concludes RN’s ongoing detention is causing a dramatic deterioration in his health.

The medical report says RN’s symptoms are further aggravated by being held in a detention centre that is a trigger for his traumatic memories, and it recommends that he receive ongoing psychological treatment outside of detention.

As part of the legal action lodged today, RN is seeking compensation for the ongoing medical costs associated with his injuries, including the care of his prosthetic eye, as well as damages for pain and suffering. 

Maurice Blackburn, which is acting for the man pro-bono, will also write today to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection requesting that Minister Scott Morrison exercise his discretion to place RN in community detention where he may access appropriate medical support.

Under the Migration Act 1958, the Minister has the power to place people in community detention if he believes it is in the public interest to do so.

*Image available on request*

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