THE DEATH of an Iranian man housed at the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre has called both the nature of the “Papua New Guinea Solution” and the management of the centre itself into question.
The Australian Department of Immigration has reported that two significant incidents occurred at the Manus Island facility involving violence, property damage to the centre and the death of a transferee, widely understood to be 23-year-old Reza Berati.
Initial reports indicated up to 77 people had received medical treatment following the incident, with 13 people sustaining serious injuries.
A number of transferees were arrested by PNG Police in the wake of the incident, which were the culmination of a protracted period of regular protests at the Manus Island facility.
The events of those days are now subject to a Terms of Reference review by the Department, considering the appropriateness of key stakeholder and service provider responses to the incidents as well as clarifying their roles.
A Papua New Guinean judge, David Cannings, is also currently leading an inquiry into human rights conditions at the Centre in the wake of the incidents.
One inquiry was put on hold after lawyers for the PNG government obtained a stay order in the Supreme Court in Port Moresby, with the government seeking leave to appeal against Justice Cannings’ refusal to disqualify himself from the inquiry over allegations of bias.
At the time of going to press, Justice Cannings had set up a second inquiry into whether the human rights of asylum seekers at the facility were being denied.
Both Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill have publically expressed their commitment to the program.
Recent talks suggest the permanent resettlement of asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea could begin within the next two to three months.
The Australian government is also in talks with other Pacific Island and South East Asian Nations to discuss the possible resettlement of asylum seekers there, although Mr Abbott would not disclose which nations these were when asked.
In the meantime, the facility remains operational, with 1,310 make asylum seekers housed there as of 21 March.
The incident came despite the Australian government stepping up its security presence at the centre in recent weeks in response to mostly peaceful demonstrations.
The deadly demonstration came just a day after Mr Morrison acknowledged there had been a separate disturbance at the centre.
“There has been some minor property damage to the centre,” he said.
Damage from those riots was reportedly still visible to journalists visiting the facility a month later, with ABC reported Liam Fox reporting broken glass panels and bullet holes visible during a March visit.
News of the incident first emerged when refugee advocacy groups reported a riot squad were at the detention centre in response to asylum seekers breaching the centre’s perimeter fence.
According to the Refugee Action Coalition, protests on Manus Island have been escalating since January as frustrations over delays in processing increase.
In media interviews following the incident, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison dismissed reports which suggested the disturbance occurred in response to the detainees being told they wouldn’t re-settle in PNG.
“I am advised that suggestions reportedly made by asylum advocate groups in relation to this incident that transferees had been informed they would not be settled in Papua New Guinea are false,” he said.
The Australian Greens said reports of unrest on Manus Island showed that offshore processing was an expensive and serious policy failure.
“The Manus Island detention centre has always been inhumane but it’s clear that, under the Abbott Government, the situation there is at boiling point,” Greens immigration spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said.
“The Immigration Minister must be up front with the Australian people and explain how his government’s failures led to this disturbance.
The latest round of unrest comes just a few weeks after PNG Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato talked up the regional resettlement processing centre on Manus Island.
“We are happy to see all of the arrangements we have put in place are working,” Mr Pato told a media conference in PNG.
“There are very minor issues, but those are issues that are not difficult, they can be addressed and out technical people are working on it.”