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Manus Island tensions reached flashpoint at pre-riot meeting

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David Wroe and Michael Gordon

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EXCLUSIVE: The Manus Island meeting that set off a riot

David Wroe and Michael Gordon examine new video showing rising tensions inside the detention facility in mid-February.

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Asylum seekers, already angry about the uncertainty they faced, were repeatedly told they would remain in Manus Island's overcrowded detention centre indefinitely at an incendiary pre-riot meeting, footage obtained exclusively by Fairfax Media shows.

The meeting brought to a head tensions that had simmered for months over the failure to process their claims for refugee status, and it was a catalyst for the violence that began less than two hours later, culminating in the killing of detainee Reza Barati.

A still from video footage of a meeting on Manus Island that descended into combative chaos between asylum seekers and security officials.

A still from video footage of a meeting on Manus Island that descended into combative chaos between asylum seekers and security officials.

Nearly two hours of video chart the meeting's descent into combative chaos as detainees vented their frustrations on PNG and Australian officials, who in turn delivered scripted answers that underscored the hopelessness of the detainees' situation.

No fewer than five times, PNG immigration official Jeffrey Kiangali told the detainees that assessing their asylum claims would be a ''very lengthy process'' with ''no definite timeframe''.

He also repeatedly stressed they were ''free to go home'' any time, but if they chose to stay, they would be stuck in the detention camp ''for as long as it takes to process your claims''.

His answers to questions put by the detainees at a meeting 12 days earlier were jointly written by Australian and PNG officials.

Mr Kiangali also told the detainees that any misbehaviour might affect their refugee claims - a suggestion refugee lawyers said was inappropriate.

Mr Kiangali said: ''Your behaviour and conduct at this centre will also be taken into consideration during your refugee status determination process.''

In protests that followed, some of the detainees taunted PNG nationals outside the centre, but in the meeting one Iranian stressed that their grievance was not with PNG people.

''We just talk about your government, not your people,'' the man declared. ''Your people are really lovely and we love them but, the thing is, your government shouldn't accept this.''

Others expressed concerns about their safety if their claims were accepted and they were permanently resettled in PNG.

''I don't feel protected in PNG,'' another told the meeting. ''PNG is a high-crime country … Can you protect me? Can you protect all these people?''

According to the departmental inquiry headed by Robert Cornall, the meeting brought the tensions to a flashpoint, with detainees believing they would be on Manus Island for up to four years.

The meeting also underscores that many asylum seekers were simply upset they had been transferred to PNG when they wanted to come to Australia.

''I seek refuge in Australia. Why was I taken by force to this country?'' one detainee demanded of Mr Kiangali.

Daniel Webb of the Human Rights Law Centre said it was inappropriate for immigration officials to tell asylum seekers the success of their refugee claims was conditional on their good behaviour.

He said: ''Refugees have rights. The governments of Australia and PNG must respect them instead of threatening to ignore them unless people are completely and utterly compliant whilst being detained indefinitely in inhumane conditions.''

It is understood a video has been submitted to a Senate inquiry by security firm G4S. The firm declined to comment when contacted by Fairfax Media.

But on ABC's 7.30 on Tuesday night, the company's managing director of immigration services said they were ''saddened by the events of that night''.

Chris Manning insisted that G4S did not know which of its staff might have been involved in the fatal bashing Reza Barati, saying there were allegations, but it had not identified perpetrators, just passed all information to PNG police.

Mr Manning said it was not for G4S to sift the evidence, its role was to support the police inquiry ''to ensure that anybody who has broken the law in this brutal and horrific way is brought to justice''.

with AAP

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189 comments

  • Who told these people in the video that they'd be coming to Australia to be processed and settled...their people smuggler?

    Seems to me that they are angry that they paid their money to seek illegal passage to Australia and did not get what they were promised. More the fool for trusting the smugglers.

    So apparently fleeing imminent danger and persecution in their home countries, these people travel through numerous other countries in which they are safe to pursue a first world lifestyle.

    Then, when the lie they are fed by the smugglers doesn't eventuate, and despite being safe, fed, clothed and housed in better conditions than millions of other refugees around the world, they riot.

    These are not the sort of people we want in Australia.

    In the video they seem to know a lot about PNG, the refugee convention (although incorrectly claim they are entitled to a 1st world lifestyle), but seem surprised that they've been shipped to Manus, even though the policy would have spread like wildfire when announced? Yeah right!

    This is why it is so critical that boats are stopped, and illegal economic immigrants are not allowed to self-select Australia.

    How many thousands of genuine refugees waiting patiently in the queue for their chance of protection missed out because of Labor's border failure?

    Commenter
    Cam
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    May 28, 2014, 7:51AM
    • Whats with all these sensible comments? Where are all the economically illiterate (more debt is good) bleeding hearts normally associated with these blogs?

      Commenter
      Colin
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 8:52AM
    • Irrespective of the current situation, how they came to be in Manus etc, these seekers (asylum, refugee or otherwise), should now be processed; at least in a drip-feed fashion, resettled into Australia, or those that fail the acid test, have the right to return to their native homeland or elsewhere.

      Commenter
      $keptic
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 9:00AM
    • So Cam

      Enlighten us please are you part of the Refugee Determination Status process as you appear to have first hand knowledge of the status of people arriving by boat, though maybe im wrong as you dont understand the concept of secondary movement or that coming to Australia via boat, plane, spaceship, row boat or any other means with or with out authorisation or valid visa to seek asylum is not illegal

      If you are referring to the UNHCR camps do you realise that even being a signatory to the UN Convention that we are under no obligation to accept people from those camps we do so because we are a tolerant civilsed and compassionate society

      The more burning question is why did the LNP reduced the number down from 20000 to 13750 that stops us taking 6250 from camps given you post you should be outraged by that?

      Commenter
      Buffalo Bill
      Location
      Sydneys Northshore
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 9:29AM
    • Cam, Thanks for the recitation of just about every muddled cliche ever spun on this issue.

      "Who told these people in the video that they'd be coming to Australia to be processed and settled...their people smuggler?" We did when we signed up to the UNHCR.

      "Seems to me that they are angry that they paid their money to seek illegal passage to Australia and did not get what they were promised." Incarceration has well known effects on people. Look up the Stanford Prison experiment and other references. This has been well known for over 40 years.

      "So apparently fleeing imminent danger and persecution in their home countries, these people travel through numerous other countries in which they are safe" No. The countries they pass through aren't signatories to the UNHCR so they have no legal status and therefore no stability an often no real safety All the vast majority are looking for is to be able to restart life for themselves and their children.

      "despite being safe, fed, clothed and housed in better conditions than millions of other refugees around the world, they riot." There are numerous reports that the conditions are not the utopia that you imply. From basic sanitation, health and hygiene, food and water supply all the way to an absence of safety as amply demonstrated.

      "These are not the sort of people we want in Australia." They are ordinary people being victimised (again) for the sake of defective domestic politics. Many Australians would act in the same way under similar circumstances. Again look at the many references on behaviour in incarceration.

      Commenter
      davros
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 9:36AM
    • Cam, (cont)

      "In the video they seem to know a lot about PNG, the refugee convention (although incorrectly claim they are entitled to a 1st world lifestyle), but seem surprised that they've been shipped to Manus" Under the terms of the UNHCR they had every reason to believe their claims would be assessed here. Offshore processing is just a political stunt to buy votes from ignorant bigots. It also costs more.

      "This is why it is so critical that boats are stopped, and illegal economic immigrants are not allowed to self-select Australia." Between 70 - 90% are found to be genuine refugees under the convention not the economic migrants you refer to. It's not illegal to seek asylum. It is in no way critical to the nation. We've been taking boat arrivals for decades with no real problems. It's just another fake emergency created by politicians with nothing of substance to offer the community.

      "How many thousands of genuine refugees waiting patiently in the queue for their chance of protection missed out because of Labor's border failure?" There is no queue, that's a furphy. We can help people in camps (less so after the cuts in foreign aid) as well those that arrive by boat in the same way that we help people who leave a burning building via the doors or the windows. Labor to their shame decided to court the rabid redneck vote as the LNP. Our average IQ has been in decline ever since.

      Commenter
      davros
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 9:38AM
    • Cam, stop regurgitating Morrison's lies. Asylum seekers were no doubt told that they claim asylum in Australia because that is what the 1951 convention says - and which Australia signed.

      You cannot legally expel a refugee from a signatory country, like Australia, if they have claimed asylum there. You pretend this is not the case. You appear selective in what laws you believe should be followed.

      You also claim that they are not 'real' refugees, which UNHCR and the Australian Government would have to disagree with in more than 90% of cases. Morrison knew this, which is why he halted processing of their claims (hence, "no timeframe").

      You also lie that there is some sort of orderly queue somewhere for 'real' refugees to line up at. For much of recent history, Australian embassies have refused offshore applications and the intake from UNHCR camps have been reduced by 35% in the last year alone. The result of this avoidance of responsibility means that poor countries have to deal with millions of refugees on their own. With Australia's cuts to foreign aid, these refugees properly 'waiting in queue' will continue to linger in limbo.

      When those same refugees think, "I deserve a life, just like anyone else" and get on a risky boat journey to Australia, they are forcing Australia to remember the promise it made back in 1951.

      Your lies do you a disservice, as the facts are readily available.

      Commenter
      Leigh
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 9:39AM
    • @Cam: "Who told these people in the video that they'd be coming to Australia to be processed and settled...their people smuggler?"

      Any lawyer with a passing knowledge of the Refugee Convention would be able to tell a refugee that they would have their refugee claims assessed in the country in which they applied - and the refugees were certainly intending to apply in Australia.

      "Seems to me that they are angry that they paid their money to seek illegal passage to Australia and did not get what they were promised. More the fool for trusting the smugglers."

      Refugees are not "illegal immigrants". The Refugee Convention trumps immigration controls - and it has to, because otherwise there would be no right to asylum. Refugees are entitled to get into a country of asylum by any means necessary.

      "So apparently fleeing imminent danger and persecution in their home countries, these people travel through numerous other countries in which they are safe to pursue a first world lifestyle."

      There are no countries between Afghanistand or Sri Lanka and Australia which have signed the Refugee Convention, except for East Timor, which has a vastly smaller population than Australia anyway. There is nowhere "on the way" where refugees are safe from either persecution or forcible repatriation.

      "These are not the sort of people we want in Australia."

      Au contraire. They are exactly the people I want in Australia - people who won't buckle under to oppression and who fight back when their rights are being denied. Cam, on the other hand, is the sort of person I don't want in Australia. I won't expand on that, though, for legal reasons.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 9:42AM
    • The spruikers are again citing the Refugee Convention. Article 31 states an asylum seeker must have come DIRECTLY from point of origin to the place of seeking asylum. Do you believe the stopover in Indonesia is directly to Australia and is irrelevant? All who have stayed in Indonesia waiting for the best price of a boat to become available do not meet requirements of the Convention. Can't have it both ways folks, the Convention is equally binding on the asylum seekers as it is the signatory countries.

      Commenter
      The Bujoo
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 9:56AM
    • @ Greg Platt, Davros

      I want to live in your Australia. We can call it Rainbowland, where borders are open and everything is free.

      Commenter
      Colin
      Date and time
      May 28, 2014, 10:18AM

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