|‘Blood everywhere’ at Australian refugee dump on Manus Island, but PM Abbott defiant
Australia’s hardline Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he will not succumb to “moral blackmail'' over a detention center on Papua New Guinea, as graphic witness accounts of recent violence told of “blood everywhere.’’
Unrest at the Manus Island camp this week left an Iranian man dead and more than 70 injured as tensions flared among inmates about their fate under Australia's harsh asylum-seeker policies.
Canberra has sent the head of its military-run Operation Sovereign Borders, Angus Campbell, to the island.
Abbott said he would not step back from strong border protection policies.
“We will not succumb to pressure, to moral blackmail,'' he told reporters. “We will ensure these camps are run fairly, if necessary, firmly.''
Manus Island is one of two remote Pacific camps used by Canberra in its punitive offshore detention policy, with the other on Nauru.
Under the scheme, aimed at deterring people-smugglers, any asylum-seeker arriving by boat or intercepted at sea is transferred to Manus or Nauru for processing and permanent resettlement outside Australia.
There are conflicting accounts of what sparked the riot on Monday, with claims that locals, unhappy about the camp and armed with machetes, broke in. Others say the asylum-seekers tried to escape, while PNG security guards have also been blamed.
Australian officials including the immigration minister have not been forthcoming.
A man who said he witnessed the violence, but did not want to be identified, claimed PNG guards employed by the G4S security company at the center became angry when asylum-seekers shouted insults about their country and family members.
He said the guards beat detainees with sticks, iron bars and rubber hoses.
“When they pulled them outside they started beating them with the sticks... some of them with sticks and some of them with all these hose, rubber hose and pipes,'' he told ABC radio.
An interpreter employed by the Australian Immigration Department said asylum-seekers used plastic chairs as shields when G4S guards attacked them with machetes, knives and rocks.
“Definitely, 100 percent, I stand by the statement that the local people, including some employed by G4S, they were the ones who caused this drama,'' Azita Bokan told Fairfax Media after flying out of Manus Island Wednesday.
“There was blood everywhere. The number injured was horrific – people with massive head injuries, at least one with a slashed throat,'' she added, in comments that appeared to back what refugee advocates have said.
G4S said in a statement that “we take these allegations seriously and we as a company do not tolerate violent or abusive behavior from our staff.’’
But it added: “Our personnel on duty during the disturbances acted with courage, strength and determination to protect those in our care.''
Both Australia and Papua New Guinea are conducting investigations.