Australia 'failed' asylum seekers in PNG riot - senate report

People attend a candlelight vigil in support of asylum seekers, in Sydney on 23 February 2014. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati's death in February at Manus Island prompted protests from activists

An Australian senate committee report has condemned the government for "failing to protect" asylum seekers involved in a deadly riot at a Papua New Guinea detention centre.

The February riot saw scores injured and Iranian Reza Barati killed.

But Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the report "whitewashed" the previous government's mistakes.

Australia's controversial asylum policy sees those arriving by boat housed in offshore immigration centres.

The senate committee report examined the events that led up to the outbreak of violence from 16 to 18 February at the Manus Island detention centre, where scores of asylum seekers clashed with guards and locals.

'Massive influx'

It said that the events were "eminently foreseeable" and could have been prevented if the asylum seekers had been on a "clear pathway" for assessing their refugee claims.

In 2013, the centre was transformed from a mixed facility into one housing single adult males. It also saw a "massive influx" of new asylum seekers, resulting in the centre housing more than double its intended capacity.

"It is clear from evidence presented to the committee that the Australian Government failed in its duty to protect asylum seekers including Mr Barati from harm," the report stated.

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Media captionThe riot took place between 16 and 18 February at the Manus Island centre

The committee recommended that the government improve staff training, compensate "those who have suffered human rights violations" including Mr Barati's family and those injured, and allow UN and Australian human rights commission representatives to have full access to the facility.


Mr Morrison said in a statement that Mr Barati's death was "tragic and terrible", but noted that the senate committee which produced the latest report was dominated by opposition representatives.

"Labor and the Greens have used their report as a blatant attempt to whitewash their own failures in government," he said.

He said his Liberal coalition government had inherited a detention centre which was "underfunded and incomplete, and resettlement arrangements were little more than a blank sheet of paper."

Australia and asylum

  • Asylum seekers - mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran - travel to Australia's Christmas Island by boat from Indonesia
  • The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people have died making the journey
  • To stop the influx, the government has adopted hard-line measures intended as a deterrent
  • Everyone who arrives is detained. Under a new policy, they are processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG, Nauru or Cambodia
  • Tony Abbott's government has also adopted a policy of tow-backs, or turning boats around
  • Rights groups and the UN have voiced serious concerns about the policies and conditions in the detention camps. They accuse Australia of shirking international obligations

Australia asylum: Why is it controversial?

A separate government-commissioned official report released in May found that Mr Barati had been brutally beaten by a group of people comprising guards and locals who had entered the centre.

Two workers at the centre have since been arrested for his murder, and his death has become a rallying point for activists protesting against current asylum seeker policies.