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On Sunday about 35 people broke out of the Manus Island mandatory detention centre after they became agitated during a meeting about their future resettlement prospects. On Monday, an asylum seeker inside Manus Island detention centre sent this message to Guardian Australia:
We are in danger. They attacked us again. Somebody please help us. They cut off the electricity and attacked us.
By the end of the night one asylum seeker was dead (a 23 year old Iranian man) from fatal head injuries, two shot, another in a critical condition, and a total of 77 asylum seekers were reported injured, mostly suffering head wounds. Twelve with serious injuries were treated at the centre’s makeshift clinic on Manus Island while some were treated in Port Moresby and two flown to Australia. Two children were being detained on Manus Island at the time of the violence. One Iranian asylum seeker claimed:
I did nothing, I wasn’t involved in the protests, I was in my room, being good, trying to sleep. They came in my room … they dragged me out of my bed and beat me. They had huge rocks in their hands and they hit my head and my body with them.
There are conflicting reports about who caused the injuries to the asylum seekers with claims of violence being made against G4S security staff beating detainees, locals joining G4S staff in fighting detainees, heavily armed PNG paramilitary staff, and Navy staff. The Australian immigration minister, Scott Morrison has confirmed that PNG police fired guns at different times throughout the evening but he could not say if this was inside or outside the compound. What is clear is that the Australian government has created a terrible mess and now has blood on its hands. How much more will it take before our democratically elected government behaves responsibly and with humanity?
Morrison, has announced an inquiry into the violence at the centre by former Secretary of the Attorney-General’s department Robert Cornall. Ex-civil servant Cornall conducted a biased inquiry last year into sexual assault in the Manus Island detention centre and unsurprisingly in that report Cornall, who cannot be considered impartial, refuted the claims against the government. Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs and shadow immigration minister Richard Marles have called for it to be independent. Triggs said a monitoring body of “respected professionals” should carry out the inquiry, not the government. Similarly, Amnesty International called for an immediate independent investigation into the incident with spokesman Graham Thom stating:
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 government. 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.
Considering the mounting pressure being placed on Morrison I wonder how much longer the Manus detention centre will stay open, especially considering that last month the PNG supreme court ruled the constitutionality of the agreement between PNG and Australia to process asylum seekers on Manus Island is open to challenge. The five-judge panel also said asylum seekers should be made aware they were legally allowed to appeal against their detention, querying whether any knew this because none had approached the courts, despite the process being made deliberately easy but legal aid services are no longer provided by Australia. Hopefully human rights groups will now begin proceedings on behalf of the detainees and bring an end to this senseless scheme.