One person dead in Manus Island clashes

Last updated 21:00 18/02/2014

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Serious questions have been raised about Australia's responsibility to asylum seekers held in offshore detention centres after violent clashes on Manus Island that left one asylum seeker dead, another shot and scores of others severely injured.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed 77 asylum seekers had been injured on the second night of violence in a vicious clash between locals and the PNG police on Monday.

The asylum seeker died on the way to Lorengau Hospital, Mr Morrison said.

Two asylum seekers have been flown to Australia for treatment, one for a fractured skull and another for a gun-shot wound.

Refugee advocates say locals and the PNG police attacked the centre with machetes, knives and other weapons and have again condemned Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention centres, saying Manus Island is dangerous and lawless.

They say Australia has put the lives of people seeking asylum, who have already fled torture, war and gross human rights violations, at risk.

On Monday night, one asylum seeker from Lebanon who is in the Manus Island compound wrote in a Facebook message that the violence had started again.

''Tonight polices [sic] and g4s attack us again. Many peoples in the yard. Injure please we need one to help us. May be till morning they will kill us. We are human or animls [sic].''

Ghulam Murtaza, whose brother is currently in the detention centre, said his brother Ghulam Mustasa had rung him at 11.40pm crying, bleeding and terrified that he would be killed, saying the locals had come inside the compound as it had become dark.

"My brother was inside. He said 'I am covered in blood' and a stone hit his head," Mr Murtaza said.

"He said, 'they will kill us'. He was in the compound saying 'I am going to run away to save my life.'"

The security firm G4S, which manages the detention centre, said claims of ''internal attacks'' within the centre were unfounded.

In a statement, the firm said it had removed all ''non-essential'' staff from the compound with asylum seekers who were not participating in the protest. The statement said that the asylum seekers were injured once they left the detention centre.

Inherently dangerous

Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said it was obvious that Manus Island was an ''inherently dangerous place that the minister cannot secure'', saying there should be no question that these asylum seekers should be brought back to Australia.

The Refugee Rights Action Network's Victoria Martin said: ''Last night's attack was a massacre.''

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''It was a pre-meditated attack on unarmed and defenseless asylum seekers some of which have escaped war and are now being put back into, what is essentially a war zone. Manus Island is lawless. These are dangerous people,'' she said.

Mr Morrison, however, denied reports that the PNG police entered the compound, saying that asylum seekers who left the centre were putting themselves in danger and ''subjecting themselves to the response of the local law''.

''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,'' he told reporters at a media conference in Darwin.

''Those who are breaching the perimeter fence and going out of the centre, then this is a disorderly environment in which there is always great risk.

''When there are people who are charged under Papua New Guinea law to maintain law and order in that situation, now if you behave an unruly way and in a disorderly way, then you subject yourself to the response of law enforcement.''

Mr Morrison said the news of the death was a ''great tragedy'' and ''our sympathies are extended to the transferees - that person's family and friends who would have been in the facility as well''.

Opposition immigration spokesman Richard Marles has called for an inquiry into the violence at Manus Island, saying it was "melting down" under Morrison's watch, but maintained he would not back away from the PNG solution.

"I can't stress enough how important the Manus Island detention facility is to Australia's strategy for dealing with boats coming from Indonesia," he said on ABC.

"It is the single piece of public policy which has made the biggest difference in seeing an end to the number of boats coming from Indonesia."

Close Manus: Greens

The Greens have demanded that the Manus Island centre be closed.

Greens leader Senator Christine Milne accused the government of ''bragging'' about poor conditions at the facility and said Mr Morrison needed to provide a full explanation.

''Ministerial responsibility has to mean something and Scott Morrison has to stop hiding,'' Senator Milne said.

President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, said Australia was not upholding its international responsibility to asylum seekers.

''Clearly there needs to be an inquiry into this,'' Professor Triggs told Fairfax Media.

''The primary obligation that Australia has is to offer protection for asylum seekers and we cannot abdicate that responsibility by sending people to a third country, in this case Papua New Guinea, but it is clear that responsibility is not being met.''

Professor Triggs said the Australian government had exposed asylum seekers to these conditions and it was inevitable asylum seekers would suffer mental illness, stress and, in some cases, violence.

On Monday evening, asylum seekers said they were fearful of a violent attack by the local PNG police, which have been dubbed as the ''death squad'', and angry locals who they said would be wielding machetes, knives and guns.

At the same time, a spokesman from Mr Morrison told Fairfax Radio that any information about a second attack on Monday was ''completely untrue'' and we should be ''more sceptical of stories coming from activists''.

On Sunday night, asylum seekers in Manus Island used pieces of bunk beds as weapons in battles with guards, destroyed fences and pulled down light poles.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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