June 10, 2014
(Reuters) – Security company G4S said on Tuesday a deadly riot at an Australian immigration detention centre this year could have been avoided if the government had provided better security infrastructure and processed languishing asylum applications.
Australia uses offshore detention centres in Papua New Guinea and the tiny South Pacific island nation of Nauru to process would-be refugees trying to reach the country, often in unsafe boats after paying people smugglers in Indonesia.
One asylum seeker was killed and more than 60 injured during riots in February at one such facility on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.
Darren Boyd, regional managing director for G4S, which at the time provided security for the facility, told a Senate committee that the government had ignored repeated requests for proper security infrastructure even as security deteriorated.
“The severity of the violence on 17 February resulted from a lack of security fencing at the Centre that was fit for purpose,” Boyd said.
Australia’s tough stance on asylum-seekers, including offshore processing and a blanket ban on people arriving by boat settling in Australia, has been criticised by the United Nations and other groups as illegal and inhumane.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a November report neither centre had a “fair and efficient system for assessing refugee claims” nor provided “safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention”.
Tension on Manus Island soared after the refugees, angered over being told by immigration officials that it could take years to process their applications, began taunting island residents through a flimsy perimeter fences.
Papua New Guinea police, together with PNG employees of services providers at the facility including G4S, forced their way into the facility and attacked the asylum seekers, leaving one man dead, an independent inquiry found.
“The key factor contributing to the riots taking place was the lack of processing of the transferees’ refugee claims,” Boyd said.
G4S has a chequered history. In 2012, it failed to provide enough staff for the London Olympics and has since been involved in problems with an electronic tagging contract in Britain and unrest at prisons it has run in South Africa and Britain.
Just weeks after the riot, Australian management firm Transfield Services won a A$1.2 billion ($1.12 billion)contract to run both of Australia’s Pacific island immigration detention centres. (Editing by Robert Birsel)