February 18, 2014
Australian immigration minister confirms 77 people were treated for injuries and one person died of a head injury.
One person has been killed and 77 injured, one by a gunshot, in unrest at Australia’s asylum seeker detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, immigration minister Scott Morrison has confirmed.
The person died of a head injury on the way to Lorengau hospital in PNG. The gunshot victim, who was wounded in the buttock, and another person who suffered a critical head injury, were being taken to Australia.
At a press conference in Darwin the minister said 77 people had been treated for injuries. Thirteen suffered serious injuries, including the gunshot wound and the critical basal skull fracture, that resulted in the evacuations to Australia. Twenty two people suffered minor injuries.
One air ambulance was on its way to the island and another was being arranged to leave on Tuesday afternoon to help treat the remaining injured.
There have been escalating protests at the centre for several days; asylum seekers breached fences, internal and external, on Sunday and Monday nights, Morrison said.
Some refugee representatives and people within the facility have said that detainees did not start the disturbances but have been under attack by PNG police and locals from outside the centre.
Morrison described Monday’s incident as “more serious” than the one on Sunday, during which 35 detainees escaped before being recaptured.
“The news of a death is a great tragedy and our sympathies are extended to the transferee’s – that person’s – family and friends who would have been in the facility as well,” he 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 to place themselves at great risk.”
Morrison said protesting asylum seekers broke through fences just after 11pm on Monday, but “at 3am this morning order was completely restored to the centres”, although it still was not certain that all detainees had been returned.
“At all times the G4S staff who were involved were involved in maintaining order within the centre itself,” he said.
A statement from G4S released shortly after Morrison’s press conference said the breach of the perimeter fence followed two days of demonstrations by detainees.
“A number of transferees were injured after they breached the perimeter fence and the matter became a law enforcement issue for PNG authorities,” it said.
There was a report of gunfire about 1am local time, Morrison said.
Refugee advocates and people inside the facility contradicted Morrison’s statements that asylum seekers had caused the disturbance and broken out of the centre. They said PNG police and locals entered the compounds with weapons and attacked detainees.
“As far as we know no detainees breached the perimeter unless it was in the context of fleeing the detention centre,” Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, told Guardian Australia.
He said the fences were breached by locals and PNG police who carried out “systematic and brutal” attacks on asylum seekers.
“[The PNG police] have been inside the compound routinely over the last few weeks dealing with protests,” Rintoul said.
He said people on the island had said the groups had come through the outer perimeter fence “and systematically attacked, compound by compound”.
“People fled out of the compound.”
Sources inside the detention facility have given Guardian Australia a similar account of the first disturbance on Sunday night.
One source said Manus Island police and locals entered the compound and attacked asylum seekers with machetes and bats. “About 15 persons were wounded – cut in neck, cut in shoulder, cut in thigh, back damage, head cut, and [they] had been taken to IHMS,” said the source.
The source also alleged that when attackers could not get inside one compound they began throwing rocks instead.
Another said no detainees had attacked Australian staff and that among the injuries at least two people were stabbed.
“Local people attacked us and started throwing stones at us,” he told Guardian Australia. “We are not safe here at all,” he said.
Morrison said his information was that there were no PNG police inside the centre, and said the gunshot occurred outside the perimeter. Investigations into the shooting would be under the jurisdiction of the PNG authorities, he said.
“If you behave in an unruly and disorderly way then you subject yourself to the response of law enforcement,” he said.
“This has been a rolling series of protests orchestrated by people within the centre,” he said. “This has been of no surprise to us.”
He added that the government had been taking steps in recent weeks to step up security at the centre.
The Papua New Guinea prime minister, Peter O’Neill, sent a delegation headed by chief immigration officer Mataio Raburato to Manus Island to investigate a breakout, AAP reported.
Amnesty International called for an immediate independent investigation into the incident, and laid blame for the death at the feet of the offshore processing policy of Australia and Papua New Guinea.
“The safety and protection of asylum seekers is the joint responsibility of both Australia and Papua New Guinea under a formal agreement between the two governments,” said its spokesman, Graham Thom.
“Both must ensure that government officials and private contractors exercise caution and use force only as a last resort when dealing with asylum seekers, many who have experienced trauma and torture.”
Amnesty called for an immediate end to offshore processing.
“Until this happens, both the Australian and PNG governments need to progress resettlement plans and provide asylum seekers held at Manus Island with some certainty about their futures,” said Thom.
In Canberra, the deputy opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek, said Australians needed to hear details of the incident.
“We’ve got Australians working on Manus Island, and of course we’re concerned about any asylum seekers or locals who might have been injured or in any way in danger,” she told ABC radio.
Manus Island: ‘agitated’ asylum seekers escape from detention centre
The incident follows a similar one on Sunday after protests by asylum seekers, “agitated” by a meeting with immigration officials about their futures in PNG, began protesting and damaged parts of the facility.
Asylum seeker advocates said the protest was the culmination of daily protests against long delays and little information about the processing of their refugee claims.
Morrison confirmed 35 people had escaped but said they were caught and returned to the centre. The incident left 19 asylum seekers injured and eight on criminal charges after fences inside and outside the centre were breached.
“The department understands that during the meeting on February 16 the transferees were advised by the PNG ICSA [Immigration and Citizenship Service Authority] that those found to be refugees would be offered settlement in PNG,” Morrison said on Monday.
He also confirmed a third-country option would not be offered to asylum seekers and they would not be offered any assistance by either PNG or Australia in seeking settlement in a third country.
However, Morrison conceded it was still undecided whether people would live on Manus Island or somewhere else, once given refugee status. “All of those issues are still being worked through with the PNG government,” he said.
Processing of claims is believed to have started, but no claims have been finalised yet.
“The issue of resettlement is a further challenge. That’s why we’ve been moving so quickly to establish that accommodation on Manus that provides a place for people to be accommodated post-assessment if they are found to be refugees,” Morrison said.
The accommodation was not restricted to temporary or short-term housing, he said, adding that people being resettled there was a possibility, “but those details haven’t been confirmed”.