Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Video will begin in 5 seconds.

Video settings

Please Log in to update your video settings

Exclusive: inside the Manus Island riot

Vision and images obtained exclusively by Fairfax Media reveal the violence unleashed by PNG guards on asylum seekers detained on Manus Island in mid-February.

PT4M13S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-370ow 620 349

It was a plan hatched in a hurry, driven by anger, frustration and desperation and doomed to fail almost as soon, and as shambolically, as it was activated.

About 35 asylum seekers rushed out of the gate from the Oscar compound of the Manus Island detention centre, as if on impulse, when it opened for the truck carrying their evening meals to enter.

Clockwise from left: A still from a video taken the day before the riot; a window after locals tried to enter; and blood smeared on a wall.

Clockwise from left: A still from a video taken the day before the riot; a window after locals tried to enter; and blood smeared on a wall. Photo: Supplied

Their aim was to seek refuge at a church a few kilometres away, but sources say they ran straight into a group of angry PNG locals who were walking towards the camp to begin their shifts as security guards employed by the contractor G4S.

It was about 6.15 on the evening of February 16 and the tensions that had been simmering for weeks had just been ramped dramatically up by a meeting with camp officials that confirmed the asylum seekers’ worst fears.

The take-out of the meeting, as one security guard described it, was that they faced years in detention in PNG and, even if their claims for refugee status were recognised, they would not be going anywhere.

A still from a video shows guards attacking detainees at the Manus Island compound. Click for more photos

Manus Island riot

A still from a video shows guards attacking detainees at the Manus Island compound. Photo: Supplied

  • A still from a video shows guards attacking detainees at the Manus Island compound.
  • Manus Island detention centre.
  • Manus Island after the violence in which asylum seeker Reza Barati died.
  • The bottom of stairs near a recreation block.
  • A bullethole, at stomach height, in a room.
  • Damage where locals tried to force entry.
  • Door showing signs of forced entry.
  • The room the bullet was fired into.
  • A bed in the Manus Island compound.
  • Rear fence where PNG locals forced entry into the compound.
  • Triage area set up to treat the injured.

Their rage and despair manifested itself in a dramatic change in the tone of their nightly protests, which had until then mainly involved peacefully marching around their compounds and pleading for their freedom.

Now they were angry, and their ire was directed not at the Australian government that sent them here, but at the country holding them, prompting guards in riot gear to enter their compound.

“F… PNG!” some of the asylum seekers chanted. A few, according to security guards and local residents, said worse, more hurtful, things. “PNG, AIDS country!” A small number, according to Australians who were working as security guards, even exposed themselves to those outside the centre.

<b></b>

The PNG nationals walking up the road were not of a mind to sympathise with their predicament, or rationalise that the statements came from a small minority of the 1300 who are detained in conditions described by Amnesty International as hopelessly inadequate and by the UNHCR as unsafe.

Untrained in conflict resolution, unprepared to deal with situations like this one and possibly riled by malicious rumours spread about the asylum seekers' intentions if they escaped, they turned on the hapless escapers, quickly outnumbering them.

Some of the asylum seekers were armed with sticks and ready for a fight, an Australian security guard says. Most turned and ran for the safety of the centre they had fled. A few tasted freedom of sorts before being rounded up and taken to the local prison. Some suffered frightful beatings and broken bones. One had his throat cut.

The video footage obtained by Fairfax Media captures one scene of this drama, when asylum seekers who ran back into the centre sought refuge in a building and were pursued by PNG nationals in their G4S uniforms. An Australian guard restrains them.

Earlier, some of the asylum seekers and some of those outside the fence began throwing the same rocks at each other. Who threw the first rock is unclear, though asylum seekers insist their area was cleared of any potential missiles before the disturbance and they were simply returning fire.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison reported the next day that 19 detainees had attended the clinic for medical attention, none of whom were “exhibiting life–threatening conditions”. The next morning, five remained at the clinic. It is also clear that some security guards were injured, mostly when hit by rocks thrown into the centre.

The carnage that unfolded 24 hours later invites the question of who bears greatest responsibility for what occurred the following night. Clearly, there were many contributing factors, including the lack of training of PNG nationals, the climate of suspicion and fear, the failure of centre management to act on intelligence that violence was inevitable and the provocative chants and hostile behaviour of some detainees.

But the inescapable conclusion is that this was the consequence of the decisions of both the major parties in Australia to send asylum seekers to a remote island, detain them indefinitely in harsh conditions, give them no certainty about how and when their claims for refugee status would be determined and insist they would never be able to leave PNG unless they returned to the countries they had fled.

PNG’s unsuitability was unwittingly highlighted in a report carried in News Limited papers on Monday under the heading "Rioters suffer in lap of luxury". It told how nine of those injured in the violence had been put up at an “expensive” Port Moresby hotel after being transferred to the PNG capital for medical treatment.

The report said the asylum seekers regularly had room service in a hotel with a lagoon-style pool, bars, restaurants and a pizza outlet. It did not report that all had been seriously injured, that they were under guard the whole time and they were the last of the asylum seekers allowed to make a phone call to family members.

One of the “guests” at the hotel was the man shot in the buttocks on February 17. He says doctors have not been able to remove the bullet. “I'm dying from this pain but they do not do anything for me,” he said in a Facebook message over the weekend. “I fill out medical request every day, but nothing happens.”

Follow us on Twitter