Updated: 02/19/2014 12:13 | By Agence France-Presse

PNG immigration riot inevitable: refugee advocates

Violence at an Australian detention centre that left one dead and scores injured was a tragedy waiting to happen, refugee advocates said Wednesday amid calls for an independent investigation.

PNG immigration riot inevitable: refugee advocates

A Refugee Action Coalition photo shows a man walking between tents at Australia's regional processing centre on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea

Unrest rocked the immigration camp on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island on Monday night as tensions flared among inmates about their fate under Canberra's hardline asylum-seeker policies.

An Iranian man died from a head injury and 77 other people were injured, some seriously, with Immigration Minister Scott Morrison putting 100 extra security staff on standby, although there were no further protests on Tuesday night.

Morrison confirmed PNG police opened fire during the chaos, but the exact circumstances remain unclear. 

Reports said locals, unhappy about the camp and armed with machetes, were involved, but Morrison denied this.

Both Australia and Papua New Guinea said they will carry out investigations, but Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs said she fears they will not be objective enough.

"I think we've reached a stage now with the violence that it really does call for a more objective inquiry into what is happening at these detention centres and what the conditions are that lead to the levels of very high anxiety and in some cases violence," she told ABC radio.

Triggs said a retired judge or civil servant should handle the probe.

The Refugee Council of Australia said the riots, which started Sunday, were a failure of government policy and inevitable.

"For many years, the Australian government has understood the consequences of indefinite, long-term detention on the mental health of asylum-seekers," said council chief executive Paul Power.

"For asylum-seekers already traumatised by the persecution or torture they have suffered, and the dangerous journey to find safety and protection, long-term, indefinite detention in a harsh, remote facility creates a highly toxic environment."

Manus Island is one of two remote Pacific camps used by Canberra in its punitive offshore detention policy, with the other on Nauru.

Under the scheme, aimed at deterring people-smugglers, any asylum-seeker arriving by boat or intercepted at sea is transferred to Manus or Nauru for processing and permanent resettlement outside Australia.

Power said that until asylum-seekers were given clear pathways to finalise their refugee status, similar incidents would occur again.

The United Nations refugee agency, which has condemned the Manus and Nauru camps as "harsh", voiced similar concerns.

"UNHCR has consistently raised issues around the transfer arrangements and on the absence of adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum-seekers and refugees in Papua New Guinea," it said. 

"Significant shortcomings in the legal framework for receiving and processing asylum-seekers from Australia remain, including lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions. 

"We also highlighted that detention practices are harmful to the physical and psycho-social well-being of transferees, particularly families and children."

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