PNG Guards Turn On Manus Detainees

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Multiple sources have now alleged that local Papua New Guinean G4S staff, contracted by Australia, were involved in the attack on Manus Island detention centre on Monday night.

As NM reported on Tuesday, at least one person was killed and dozens of others horrifically injured when police from the PNG mobile squad and other PNG nationals attacked detainees at the centre.

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition has this afternoon said the murdered asylum seeker was a 24-year-old Faili Kurd. There are also reports that an Iranian man was flown to Port Moresby for emergency treatment after having his throat slit.

Now, it’s becoming increasingly clear that many of the “locals”, described by detainees as threatening them with violence prior to Monday’s attack, are in fact employees of the security firm hired by Australia to run the centre.

A local source told New Matilda on Tuesday night that detainees were “fucking terrified” on Monday afternoon, before the most serious violence erupted, after being threatened by Papua New Guinean G4S guards who would “come past and say they’re going to get us tonight”.

“All day Monday the [detainees]were saying, ‘get us out of here, we’re afraid. The PNG guards have been making faces at us, telling us they’re going to come back’,” the source said. “They said that as soon as it got dark, the locals were going to come for them — and that is exactly what happened.”

ABC correspondent Liam Cochrane was given a similar account from a witness to Monday night’s violence. Cochrane told ABC radio on Wednesday morning that the attack on the centre was mostly perpetrated by “the Papua New Guinean G4S guards who were at times backed up by the PNG mobile squad”.

He also backed New Matilda’s account that PNG’s mobile squad, which has a reputation for killing and is funded by Australia, entered the compound and fired shots.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to verify whether police entered the detention centre.

Meanwhile, information control at the secretive camp has gone into overdrive. A source told New Matilda on Tuesday night that Cochrane’s arrival on the island had prompted G4S guards to up their security around the centre.

“There’s G4S guards hiding in the bushes because they know that an ABC journalist has arrived on Manus Island, and they’re hoping to make sure he doesn’t get anywhere near the centre,” the source said.

Cochrane confirmed to ABC radio this morning that, “getting to the centre has become impossible”.

“G4S guards have stepped up their security of the naval base, which extends several hundred metres away from the detention centre itself,” he said.

Local sources say tension between local staff, the police and detainees has been building for months, and that the Abbott government “knows very well what’s going in terms of relations with the community”.

“They’ve known it for a long time,” the source said.

Community relations hit a new low on Sunday after a meeting in which detainees were allegedly told by Australian immigration officials that they “would not be leaving PNG”.

“The thing about the last couple of days is that [detainees]have been told: you’re going to be stuck here in PNG. So [detainees in]Oscar compound spent a lot of time after that meeting chanting ‘Fuck PNG, fuck PNG’,” NM’s local source said. This anti-PNG sentiment had angered local guards at the centre and “galvanised a few hot-heads in the local community”.

Other factors such as “environmental damage, the disruption to people’s lives, and the jealousy over which locals are getting what benefits from the centre,” had also contributed to the ill will, they said.

From the asylum seekers’ side, there was some misunderstanding about the local culture, most of which had been gleaned from the internet and gossip. “Some of the naïve young Iranian boys who’ve never left home before, they hear stories about cannibalism in PNG and they’re afraid of them.”

“But they don’t have an issue with anyone in the village,” the source said. “If the [detainees]ran out of the compound into the village it was out of fear — they would not go near the village otherwise.”

Manus Island Whistleblower, Rod St George, who worked at the centre as an OH&S officer for G4S last year, told NM he is not surprised by reports that G4S staff were involved in Monday night’s violence.

“I have little doubt the G4S nationals and the thug-squad (PNG mobile squad) are behind this,” he told NM. “The problem is that the majority of static guard work is done by PNG staff and so they are the first point of request whenever detainees have a need." 

“Unfortunately, the PNG guys are simply ‘warm bodies’ wearing uniforms and can hardly ever provide meaningful assistance. This results in frustration on both sides and it often spills over into aggressive behaviour, although not necessarily physical. This then leads to the PNG guys having their pride hurt and in a payback culture it is a recipe for disaster," St George added.

New Matilda understands that detention centre staff are required to remain “on message” with detainees, telling them that they will be resettled in PNG. This is despite the PNG government’s refusal to commit to wholesale resettlement of Manus Island detainees. However, on Sunday it is understood that some staff broke with protocol and informed detainees that PNG had not agreed to resettle them. Some sources say this is was a contributing factor in Sunday's riots.

UPDATE THURSDAY 12.45PM
Traumatised staff at Manus Island detention centre have resigned after being asked to resume “business as usual” at the centre on Wednesday, a source has told New Matilda. NM understands that staff felt it was unethical to continue working at the centre after Monday night’s attack on asylum seekers.

Others chose to remain but are shocked at the Immigration Department’s handling of the incident. “There’s been no acknowledgement for this guy [who was killed]. We could have had a moment’s silence. He’s just not even been acknowledged,” one told NM.

Other local sources said there was evidence emerging that Monday night’s attack had been well co-ordinated.

Detainees have claimed they were told before the attack that if they didn’t want to fight they should go into their rooms, where they would be left alone. Later, there were reports that those who had retreated to their rooms because they did not want to be involved in the altercation were attacked in their beds.

“I do think it was quite planned,” said one source. “These people were told to go into their rooms if they didn’t want to fight, and that was where they were attacked. [The attackers] cut the power first. They’ve come in and cut the electricity, so they couldn’t see,” the source said.

Meanwhile, as Immigration Minister Scott Morrison tries to contain the fallout from this violent event, management at the centre have allegedly moved shipping containers into position so that passersby can no longer see in to the centre.

Sources say detainees inside are "absolutely traumatised" and many of them still badly injured. Internet and phone services inside the centre have apparently been cut off.

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