Australia rejects asylum offer claim in riot death case

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Activists say living conditions at the Manus Island detention centre, seen here in a 2012 photo, are poor

Australia has rejected claims that it offered to resettle asylum seekers in the country if they withdrew statements about a death at a detention facility.

Australian human rights lawyer Julian Burnside QC made the claim while accepting an award on Wednesday.

Iranian Reza Berati was killed in a riot at the Australian-run Manus Island centre in Papua New Guinea.

The policy of housing asylum seekers offshore - intended as a deterrent - has been criticised by rights groups.

Australia sends all asylum seekers arriving by boat to offshore camps in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific territory of Nauru for detention and processing.

Mr Burnside, a vocal critic of the government's controversial immigration and detention policies, accepted the Sydney Peace Prize on Wednesday night.

At the ceremony, he said a confidential source had told him that asylum seekers who witnessed the death of Mr Berati would be settled in Australia if they withdrew their statements.

"My understanding is that some people in the Manus Island detention are being offered the opportunity of being taken to mainland Australia on condition they withdraw any witness statements they've made," he said, according to media reports.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison rejected the claims.

"This is a false and offensive suggestion made without any basis or substantiation by advocates with proven form of political malice and opposition to the government's successful border protection policies," he said.

According to an official report, Mr Berati suffered a severe brain injury after being beaten during the riot in February.

The report said he was attacked by a mob of security guards and PNG local residents who had broken in to the Manus Island camp during a night of violence.

Two Papua New Guinea men have been charged with his murder.

Mr Burnside also claimed he had a sworn statement from an individual who witnessed Mr Berati's death, alleging that a dozen employees beat and kicked Mr Berati.

The Iranian man was struck with a wooden plank and a rock, Mr Burnside said, citing the witness statement.

Australia and asylum

  • Asylum-seekers - mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran - travel to Australia's Christmas Island on rickety boats from Indonesia
  • The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and scores of people have died making the journey
  • Everyone who arrives is detained. They are processed in camps in Christmas Island, Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG, not Australia
  • The government is believed to be towing boats back to Indonesia. It has also returned asylum seekers intercepted at sea to Sri Lanka.
  • Rights groups and the UN have voiced serious concerns about the policies.

Both the UN and NGOs have strongly criticised conditions in the asylum camps. Detainees on Christmas Island are currently suing the Australian government over allegedly inadequate medical care.

Australia has also towed asylum seeker boats - which mostly leave from Indonesia - back to international waters.

The Labor opposition has indicated it "might" continue the practice if it were to win the next election.

The government says its tough policies are aimed at ending the flow of boats, so that no more people die making the dangerous journey to Australia.

Only one asylum seeker boat has reached Australia during 2014, compared with the 401 which successfully reached shore in 2013, according to local media reports.