Riot at Australia asylum seeker centre leaves one dead, 77 injured

Second round of violence hits detention facility in Papua New Guinea, which activists say were triggered by attacks on asylum seekers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 9:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 9:14am

One person was killed and 77 injured during a second night of rioting at an Australian immigration detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, officials said on Tuesday.

The violence at the camp on Manus Island on Monday night followed a less serious brawl at the same facility a day earlier that led to the arrests of eight asylum seekers and another 19 being treated for injuries.

“The news of a death is a great tragedy,” Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said.

“This is a tragedy but this was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the centre and place themselves at great risk.”

Of the 77 injured, one is critical with a skull fracture, while another was shot in the buttock.

Morrison said that despite the unrest, the immigration centre had not been destroyed.

In an earlier statement on Tuesday before he led a press conference, Morrison said some of those in the camp “breached internal and external perimeter fences”.

“I am advised that all staff have been accounted for, our service providers are in control of the centre and there has been no damage to critical infrastructure or accommodation at the centre, which will enable the centre to resume normal operations,” he said.

But Morrison said it was possible some  were still missing.

Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Australian advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition, said he had spoken to inmates inside the Manus camp and was told that asylum seekers had been attacked by police and locals.

The minor opposition Greens party argues that detention conditions on Manus and Nauru were inhumane and that the government policy of keeping asylum seekers there was putting them in danger.

Thirty-five asylum seekers broke out of the same facility on Sunday evening, with several injured, as tensions mounted about their fate under the Australian government’s hardline policies.

Morrison said asylum seekers broke through perimeter fences. They were all quickly recaptured after Sunday night’s breakout. But not all asylum seekers had been accounted for by Tuesday after the latest case.

On both days, the violent clashes began with demonstrations within the camp, which houses more than 1,000 inmates.

This is a tragedy but this was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way
Scott Morrison, immigration minister

Manus Island is one of two remote Pacific camps being used in Canberra’s punitive offshore detention policy.

Under the scheme, aimed at deterring people-smugglers, any asylum seeker arriving by boat or intercepted at sea is transferred to Manus or Nauru for processing and permanent resettlement outside Australia.

The policy appears to be working, with no asylum seeker boat reaching an Australian shore since December 18 last year.

'Fled for their lives'

Rintoul said tension with groups of  locals, who oppose the camp, had been building throughout the day and the attacks began after power was cut to the detention centre.

He claimed the perimeter fences were breached, after staff were evacuated, by locals armed with machetes, pipes, sticks and stones who carried out “savage  attacks”.

“If there are asylum seekers outside the perimeter fence it’s because  they’ve fled for their lives late last night from those attacks,” Rintoul told ABC television.

If there are asylum seekers outside the perimeter fence it’s because  they’ve fled for their lives late last night from those attacks
Ian Rintoul, migrants' group advocate

“It must be clear now that asylum seekers cannot live safely on Manus  Island. They should never have been taken there. Asylum seekers must be brought  to Australia,” he added.

Morrison said it was too early to say exactly what happened, but denied that Papua New Guinea police were involved.

“There are all sorts of rumours that are put around in this environment,”  he said. “We don’t know what occurred outside the centre and that obviously will be  the subject of an investigation into that person’s death.”

The riots follow a tense meeting between detainees and officials from Papua  New Guinea’s immigration and citizenship authority (ISCA) to discuss their fate  if they were found to have a genuine refugee claim.

They were informed they would be resettled in Papua and “a third country option will not be offered”.

“They will have frustrations about being in a centre they don’t wish to be  in because they wanted a very different outcome than being in either Manus  Island or Nauru,” Morrison said.

“There will be those who will seek to take down our policies, to take down  our processing centres, to try and destroy the regime we have put in place.”

The United Nations refugee agency has condemned the Manus and Nauru camps  as “harsh” facilities that “impact very profoundly on the men, women and  children housed there”.