Calls for closure of ‘Australia’s gulag’ in Papua New Guinea after gangs kill asylum-seeker

Hardline ‘Pacific Solution’ under scrutiny after 77 people injured during rampage at detention centre

Sydney

The wisdom and morality of Australia’s decision to set up a detention camp in Papua New Guinea (PNG) is under harsh scrutiny after one asylum-seeker died and 77 were injured during a night of violence allegedly involving PNG locals and police.

Precisely what happened on PNG’s remote Manus Island on Monday night is not yet clear, but asylum-seekers said that armed gangs of police and villagers stormed the centre, wielding guns, knives and machetes, and “hunted them down”, attacking them systematically.

The Australian government – and the British security company G4S, which runs the facility – rejected that version of events, saying the trouble began after a group of men escaped. But they could not explain how the injuries were caused, and the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, admitted that police opened fire at least twice during four hours of mayhem. 13 men – including four who were airlifted to the capital Port Moresby – remained in hospital in a serious condition.

One had gunshot wounds; another, with a fractured skull, was in a critical condition. An Iranian man died of head injuries while being transported to hospital.

Manus Island is integral to Australia’s hardline “Pacific Solution”, under which asylum-seekers arriving by boat are diverted to Manus or the island nation of Nauru and, if their refugee claims are upheld, resettled there.

Like his Labor predecessor, Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pledged that no one making the perilous journey by sea will be given a home in Australia.

The latest, shocking news from a camp already notorious for incidents of self-harm and attempted suicide sent waves of revulsion and outrage across Australia. The Refugee Council of Australia called it “an appalling tragedy”. The leader of the Australian Greens, Christine Milne, demanded that “Australia’s gulag” be closed.

Mr Morrison defended the government’s policy, saying: “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.”

Although shots were heard, “that in no way suggests they were fired at individuals. They could have been fired in the air,” Mr Morrison said.

Detainees riot at the Manus Island Detention Centre (Reuters/ABC) Detainees riot at the Manus Island Detention Centre (Reuters/ABC)
He appeared to defend the police, saying: “When there are people who are charged to maintain law and order in that situation, if you behave in a disorderly way, then you subject yourself to the response of law enforcement.”

Tensions had been building for weeks at the camp, which houses 1,340 single men, and where a guard was disciplined recently for using his Facebook page to ridicule a detainee who tried to kill himself by swallowing some nail scissors.

Last November, it was condemned by the UN’s refugee agency for failing to provide “safe and humane conditions”.

After what Mr Morrison called “a rolling series of protests”, mostly peaceful, things turned ugly on Sunday night, with detainees hurling rocks, tearing down fences and smashing bunk beds.

Nineteen people were injured, and 35 broke out of the centre, briefly.

Twenty-four hours later, violence erupted again. According to accounts given to Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, “gangs of armed police and locals acting in concert in some way went from compound to compound, hunting down asylum-seekers and inflicting very serious injuries … [carrying out] systematic attacks, savage attacks”.

Mr Rintoul told Australia’s ABC radio that “one person  was actually thrown off the first floor of one of the buildings”. If anyone was outside the perimeter fence that night, “it’s because they’ve fled for their lives”, he said, adding that Manus was “an inherently dangerous place” and that the asylum-seekers should be brought to Australia.

Ghulam Murtaza, who is living in Adelaide after fleeing Pakistan, has a brother on Manus. On Monday night his brother telephoned, weeping, terrified and, he told Mr Murtaza, bleeding from wounds.

He said that police and locals “are throwing on us stones, and they have guns  and they have sticks, and they are going to kill us”, Mr Murtaza told the ABC.

The conflicting accounts of this latest and most serious incident on Manus have left key questions unanswered – in particular, regarding how the death and injuries were caused, and how the safety of detainees, now and in the future, can be guaranteed.

Mr Morrison has promised an investigation, but it seems that it will be carried out by PNG authorities – not a prospect that instils great confidence.

The Pacific Solution was initiated by Mr Abbott’s conservative predecessor, John Howard, in 2001. It was dumped, then revived, by the Labor governments led by Mr Rudd and Julia Gillard.

The Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Trigg, said the government was failing to meet its international obligations to protect asylum-seekers.

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?