A review into two nights of violence on Manus Island has presented evidence of Australian involvement in the death of 23-year-old asylum seeker Reza Barati, contradicting government reports that the violence was committed by Papua New Guinea nationals.
A witness, referred to as ‘Mr T3’, told the review that he watched as Barati was set upon by more than 10 people, and was struck twice on the head by a Salvation Army employee whose name was redacted from the review.
According to T3, the group of more than 10 people surged past Barati, kicking him in the head as they went.
“It was including PNG locals, PNG guards and Australian expats,” he told the review.
G4S, the security company who oversaw the operations of the detention centre at the time the incident occurred, told New Matilda they could not confirm or deny whether any of their Australian employees had been involved in the death of Barati.
“This is something we’re not able to comment on at the moment because that is still the subject of a PNG investigation — we’re cooperating with police,” a spokesperson told New Matilda.
The 106-page review, authored by former secretary of the Attorney-General’s department Robert Cornall, focuses heavily on the role of locals and does not make references to Australian staff, except when quoting directly from sources interviewed. It does, however, frequently refer to the actions of “expats”, including in incidents of violence.
The review provides a broad overview of the events that lead to two nights of violence on the island in mid-February, resulting in the death of Barati, and leaving 69 others injured.
New Matilda has previously revealed questionable statements made by Cornall while he was tasked with investigating allegations of rape in the Manus detention centre last year.
Cornall’s most recent review indicates that the frustration and uncertainty faced by asylum seekers awaiting processing, as well as their despair at the prospect of never being resettled in Australia, led to protests and an antagonistic relationship between asylum seekers and locals employed in the centre.
It also suggested that racial tensions increased the scale of the resulting violence.
“As a result of the antagonism built up between the locals and the transferees, the response from the PNG nationals to the events on 17 February was personal, not just professional,” a staff member at the centre told the review.
February 16 Riot
The report has confirmed accounts published in New Matilda earlier this year indicating the first night of violence, a February 16 riot, broke out after asylum seekers received unsatisfactory responses to questions put to Australian and Papua New Guinean immigration officials.
The report airs new details about the meeting, at which 70 asylum seekers and interpreters had a statement read to them by a PNG migration representative, 12 days after submitting questions about their future on the island.
The document reveals high levels of uncertainty about the process facing the 1,340 detainees, who asked questions such as: “Is there a process”; “how long are we going to be here”; “Will the Australian government take responsibility for our mental health problems”; and “When will we be free”?
The review states that after the session asylum seekers were left with the understanding that refugee processing could take up to four years.
The review notes that the precise details of what followed remain unclear. A G4S Intelligence Report records that just after 6pm, “Disorder subsequently escalated, in Oscar compound, including a breach of the Oscar fence line, and spread to Mike and Foxtrot compounds,” at which point asylum seekers came into contact with PNG nationals who “tackled the transferees with rugby tackles; wrestled with them; picked up sticks and threatened but did not hit them; and dragged them back to the compound.”
Similar incidents continued, and the G4S reports noted exchanges of projectiles between asylum seekers and G4S staff, though testimony collected from asylum seekers frequently contradicts that provided by G4S.
After the melee, eight asylum seekers were charged with criminal offences and detained by local police. In spite of testimony describing the serious injuries sustained by asylum seekers, including one who suffered a 10cm neck laceration, the review does not make note of any G4S staff being questioned or detained.
February 17 Incident and Barati Death
The review describes Reza Barati, the refugee killed during the February 17 violence, as “one of the more prominent transferees in that community” and echoed descriptions previously made of him as “a very gentle person”.
It paints a still hazy picture of the events leading to his death.
After the first night of violence, the camp remained tense and protests began in the evening. Chris Manning, the managing director of G4S’s immigration services, said he was told: “The [asylum seekers]were taunting ‘F… PNG’ and exposing genitals.”
Things continued to escalate as the power sporadically went out, then was restored. While the review accepted G4S’s assurances that the company’s employees did not call in the PNG Mobile Squad, those assurances are contradicted by a G4S Incident Report contained in the review as well as reporting by the ABC. The infamous Mobile Squad opened fire in the compound after entering.
The review sheds little light on the chronology of events on the second night of violence, and presents conflicting accounts of G4S sources and asylum seekers. “During the course of this investigation, I was struck by the way the same situation or facts could be interpreted quite differently,” Cornall noted.
While details of violence in the compound have been well documented, the review adds new details, portraying frantic scenes in which some asylum seekers offered cigarettes — “the centre’s currency” — in order to escape bashings from locals and staff who had entered and attacked the compound. Others asylum seekers had their possessions stolen and were dragged from their beds.
“The local securities of G4S company smashed the windows of my room by big stones and several times by punches, staff and water pipe smacked to my face and head,” one asylum seeker told the review.
The review found that the majority of those injured were asylum seekers, who also suffered all the most serious injuries. It also presented G4S figures suggesting only 30 per cent of asylum seekers held in the compound played any part in the riots and demonstrations.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection had not responded to requests for comment at the time of press.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.