Asylum seeker killed in second riot at detention centre in Papua New Guinea

Detainees force their way out of centre, with at least 77 more injured in clashes with police as fears mount over Australia's hardline policies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 9:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 February, 2014, 9:39pm

One man was killed and at least 77 injured in the second riot this week at a detention centre in Papua New Guinea used to process asylum seekers.

Another person was in critical condition with a head injury and another sustained gunshot wounds during clashes on Monday that erupted after asylum seekers forced their way out of the centre on Manus Island.

The facility is part of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's tough stance against asylum seekers, but has come under fire over human rights concerns.

Thirty-five asylum-seekers broke out of the same facility on Sunday evening, with several hurt, as unrest flared about their fate under the Australian government's hardline policies.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday, in reference to the dead asylum seeker: "Our sympathies are extended to the transferees - that person's family and friends who would have been in the facility as well.

"If people choose to remove themselves from that centre then they're obviously putting themselves at much greater risk and in an environment where there is violent behaviour."

Morrison would not be drawn on exactly what happened on Monday, but said claims that locals and Papua New Guinea police broke into the facility were "not correct". But he admitted there had been a series of largely peaceful protests, starting a few weeks ago, that culminated in the violence of the last two nights.

"The news of a death is a great tragedy," he said, adding that the man died from a head injury on the way to hospital

Canberra's tough stance on asylum seekers, including offshore processing and a blanket ban on people arriving by boat ever settling in Australia, has been criticised by the United Nations and other groups as illegal and inhumane.

Australia uses detention centres at Manus Island and another on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru to process would-be refugees sent there after trying to get to Australia, often in unsafe boats, after paying people smugglers in Indonesia.

Refugee advocates say long-term detention, combined with a lack of clarity on where and when the asylum seekers may be resettled, contribute to mental health problems at the facilities.

Last month, detainees at a detention centre in the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island sewed their lips together as part of a hunger strike in protest over their treatment.

Morrison said the latest riot began when detainees forced their way through fences surrounding the centre and clashed with Papua New Guinea police, although it remains unclear whether others were involved in the violence.

The incident followed an attempted breakout from the Manus Island facility on Sunday night, when 35 asylum seekers briefly escaped. Nineteen were injured and eight arrested.

Security guards have regained control of the centre and the police had caught most of the detainees who escaped during the latest incident, Morrison said. He said it was possible some were still missing.

The unrest in Papua New Guinea quickly drew calls from critics to shut the facility.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a November report the centre failed to provide "safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention".

Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens Party senator and a critic of the government's asylum seeker policies, said responsibility lay with Abbott and Morrison.

"The government was warned about the toxic environment on Manus Island repeatedly by organisations like Amnesty International and the UN, but those warnings were ignored and dismissed," she said.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse