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Image: picture alliance/AA/R. Sakar

Canberra under fire over refugee center violence

April 15, 2017

Critics want Australia to close its detention centers on nearby island states, and bring refugees to Australia. The Papua New Guinea camp has been ordered to shut, but the fate of its refugees remains uncertain.


Human rights activists and critics are calling on the Australian government to close its detention center for asylum seekers on Papua New Guinea (PNG) after the latest outbreak of violence Friday.

Local residents of Manus Island, armed with guns and rocks, tried to break into the camp after a dispute with refugees. More than 100 shots were reportedly fired, but it's unclear how many of those shots were fired into the camp by angry villagers and how many were fired into the air by police guarding the camp.

One inmate was reportedly hit in the head by a rock thrown over the fence and was being treated for his injuries, according to an unnamed spokeswoman for Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Two guards were reportedly injured, but the spokeswoman declined to comment on that report. She referred questions to PNG authorities, who could not immediately be reached for comment.

Anna Neistat, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International in Paris, slammed the Australian government and called on them to guarantee the refugees' safety.

"We call for measures to ensure the immediate safety and wellbeing of all asylum seekers and refugees, including adequate medical care to those who may have suffered from damage or injury, and a prompt and independent investigation of this incident," Neistat wrote.

"Amnesty International reiterates its call on Australian authorities to immediately halt its unlawful policy of offshore processing. Those trapped on Manus Island and on Nauru must be brought to Australia, or a third country where their rights and safety can be assured."

Controversial asylum policy

Australia has long deployed a controversial policy toward asylum seekers, which is to block them from setting foot on Australian soil, instead shipping them off to neighboring island states - PNG and Nauru.

Controversial refugee center closed

The policy violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. While it is not a treaty, all 193 member states are bound by the UN Charter.

Last year PNG's highest court ruled the detention centers unconstitutional and ordered them closed. The camp on Manus Island is due to close October 31, but the fate of the asylum seekers remains uncertain.

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, which represents several church leaders, called on the conservative government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to show compassion at Easter and evacuate the refugees from the camp.

"The darkness of betrayal and abandonment that we are familiar with in the Jesus story is being felt keenly by those on Manus Island this weekend," the Anglican dean of Brisbane, the Very Reverend Peter Catt, said in a statement.

bik/rc (Reuters, dpa)

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