Papua New Guinea nationals attacked asylum seekers on Manus Island

Papua New Guinean nationals employed as security guards on Manus Island attacked asylum seekers at the detention centre more than 24 hours before Iranian Reza Barati died in a night of shocking violence, new footage shows.

The footage, obtained by Fairfax Media, shows the security guards attacking a group of asylum seekers who had absconded from the centre after being told they had no prospect of being settled outside PNG if their claims for refugee status were eventually recognised.

There are also images that show no action was taken to rope off the scene of Mr Barati's killing before evidence was either compromised or completely cleared away, including the rock that witnesses say made sure he was dead.

"G4S utilised personal protection gear but no batons or otherweapons were i situ":  Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Supplied

"G4S utilised personal protection gear but no batons or otherweapons were i situ": Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Supplied

The footage and images raise new questions about what was done to reduce the risk of violence at the centre and the adequacy of the subsequent investigation.

The morning after the violence, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison reported that the centre would resume "normal operations" and maintained: "G4S utilised personal protection gear but no batons or other weapons were in situ and were in control of the centre for the entire period."

But the footage clearly shows security guards throwing stones and other objects at asylum seekers seeking refuge in a room after being chased back into the centre by the guards.

Fairfax Media has also obtained images that show how the fence at the compound was pushed in by PNG nationals who entered the centre, allegedly enraged by offensive chants by asylum seekers.

They also show bullet holes within the complex at "stomach" level, challenging the assertion that the only shots fired were warning shots in the air; and they show damage to an asylum seeker’s door from a machete as asylum seekers say they were hiding inside.

Interviews with security guards support the emails of an Australian who warned colleagues that the detention centre was "totally unprepared" for any major incident, such as the violence of February 16 and 17, when Mr Barati died and more than 60 others were injured.

"The incidents at Manus Island are the subject of an independent review and police investigation": Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Leigh Henningham

"The incidents at Manus Island are the subject of an independent review and police investigation": Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Leigh Henningham

It was reported on the weekend that Paul Skillen, who worked as a G4S security supervisor at the centre, emailed colleagues in November expressing concerns that poorly trained workers were staffing the centre, which was "a tinderbox ready to ignite".

The emails have been submitted to a Senate inquiry set up to investigate the violence at the centre.

Security guards who asked that they not be identified also claimed those managing security at the centre had been urged to develop a "dedicated investigative capacity", but had failed to act.

They also accused security contractor G4S, since replaced by Transfield, of failing to conduct a skills audit of its staff. "They didn’t know who they had on the ground and who could do what," one source said.

They also claimed:

  • The training of PNG nationals employed as security guards was totally inadequate, with the nationals unprepared to perform many of the duties assigned to them, including being part of an emergency response team.
  • Command and control on the night of the extreme violence was hampered because many security guards did not have radios. "Hardly anyone had a radio, regardless of what they say," one said. "They ordered new radios in and they forgot to order spare batteries, so they get used for four or five hours then on charger for four or five hours. How can you control a riot when you’ve got no communications?"
  • Control on the night was also hampered because of a lack of torches when the power was cut to two compounds.
  • Acts of self-harm and attempted suicides were common at the centre. "The fortunate thing was that they are that crammed in that someone would raise the alert," a source said.

Security guards and local residents also criticised the failure of those managing the centre to allow for interaction with locals that, they say, would have built a level of trust and goodwill and dispelled damaging rumours.

They also say the refusal to allow detainees any capacity to humanise their environments by growing plants contributed to the tensions. Asylum seekers were not allowed to have brooms to sweep their quarters because of concern that they could be used as weapons, a source said.

The decision to cover the view of the ocean with a screen to prevent media from taking pictures was also cited as a contributing factor.

A spokesman for G4S said the company would not comment in detail on individual allegations.

‘‘Suffice it to say it is not G4S’s role to investigate any crimes that may have been committed on Manus Island; that is the role of the PNG police, which has jurisdictional authority.’’

The spokesman said: ‘‘We are and will continue to fully co-operate with all investigations and reviews by the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea.’’

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he would await the outcome of an independent review and the police investigation before commenting further on the Manus incidents.

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