A former detainee in the Australian-run Manus Island detention centre during a violent clash between Papua New Guinea police and the military last year has corroborated claims gunshots were heard during the fight and the Australian staff were removed.
Hossein Babaahmadi said he was finishing his morning English class when the trouble broke out on October 18.
Mr Babaahmadi, who has since returned to Iran and is no longer seeking asylum, said it was like everything ''collapsed'' and there were so many people running away ''there was dust in the wind''.
He said the immigration officials ordered all the Australians to evacuate during the fight, in which he said bottles and stones were thrown into the centre near the Foxtrot compound.
He said hundreds of asylum seekers were taken to the dining room and protected by just a handful of unarmed guards from the security company G4S, two former English policeman, two New Zealanders and two Australians, one a woman and former prison guard who he described as very brave.
''All the Australians had gone,'' said Mr Babaahmadi.''There was no other security in the compound. If something worse happened, we could have lost our lives.''
Mr Babaahmadi said he heard two or three shots fired half an hour after the fight started. Asylum seekers were quoted in an Amnesty report last month saying they heard two shots.
Despite initial reports that firearms had been drawn, a subsequent report said firearms were not used to ''defuse'' the situation and the Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he had been briefed that there were ''no credible reports that there were weapons drawn''.
A spokeswoman for Mr Morrison said the information received from Mr Babaahmadi ''is inconsistent with both the information available to the department and information detailed within documents provided … previously.''
An investigation by Fairfax Media has revealed the centre was thrown into chaos and confusion during the violent clash between the notorious PNG police mobile squad hired to secure the centre and the PNG army.
Immigration Department documents obtained under freedom of information showed the incident was rated as ''critical''. A G4S debrief document revealed that communications had broken down, there was no official chain of command and there was no emergency response plan in place for an outside threat. An upgrade of risk management and security has since been implemented.
We could have lost our lives.
The opposition and the Greens have accused the government of covering up the seriousness of the incident, which has been played down by Mr Morrison as a ''matter for the PNG government''.
A spokesman for Mr Morrison has said claims that Australian staff were evacuated were ''misleading'', ''because an 'evacuation', as the Minister used the term, would have involved the removal of persons from the processing centre to an off-site location. This did not occur''.
A previous statement from his office said that ''to avoid any confusion, the minister did not refer to an 'evacuation' as the connotation of such terminology is that the entire facility was evacuated - which was not the case''.
Briefing reports prepared the day after the incident by G4S used the terminology that some expat staff had been ''evacuated'' and ''this evacuation was carried out under the direction of [Department of Immigration and Border Protection] staff''.
The documents said they had been taken to a safe place but there had not been any need for them to be taken to HMAS Choules. The documents also said they were later returned to the offshore processing centre.
Mr Babaahmadi said that, in the days after the clash, they were told the incident was sparked by a personal issue between a local woman and a G4S officer. But Mr Babaahmadi also said some staff had told them it was not really a fight but just an ''exercise''.
About six weeks after the incident, G4S was informed, along with the Salvation Army, it would not have its long-term contracts renewed for Manus Island.
The spokeswoman said the government was consolidating existing services at offshore processing centres to three service providers and would give short-term extensions until the new ones were selected.