Many people will think of Manus Island as the place where there was a riot in February 2014 and where one person was brutally murdered. That man’s name was Reza Barati.
There were also serious injuries to others caused by attacks on them in the centre by Staff working at the centre, the PNG police and locals who entered the centre as well.
Of most difficulty in understanding the circumstances of the report is the veil of secrecy which this Liberal National Government has pulled down over the goings on in the detention centres at Nauru and at Manus Island as well as the “on water” operational matters which the responsible minister Scott Morrison is oft quoting.
The report was brought down on 24th May 2014 and was commissioned just after the disturbances of the 16th to 18th February 2014. So it was conducted over 93 days (from 19th Feb 2014 to 23rd May 2014).
It is not easy to find the report on the website of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection but here is a link to it.
As an ex Police constable (in the now distant past) I found the report hard to follow and lacking in detail and substance.
When we reported people for process (through the courts), we used the following form.
“At such and such a time and date I was in (specific place) and had occasion to / or did something / or saw something, which led me to do the following.”
Whoever wrote this report seems to have thrown that type of approach out of the window.
In my opinion the report is all over the place.
Body of the report.
For example the Executive Summary says the following.
The Centre was reopened in late 2012 as a temporary, low security offshore processing Centre initially accommodating men, women and children. However, in a significant policy change, on 19th July 2013, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced that transferees sent to Manus Island would be resettled in PNG, not Australia, if they were determined to be refugees.
Following that announcement:
- The Transferees then at Manus Centre were taken elsewhere
- The first Transferees covered by the new policy arrived at centre on 1 August
- The number of transferees at the Centre grew very quickly from around 350 to 400 men accommodated in one compound to 1,340 single adult male transferees in four compounds (known as Delta, Foxtrot, Mike and Oscar) at the time of the events under investigation.
This was a very significant change in the nature of, and risk associated with, the centre.
Note: The date that the first Transferees arrived at the centre – 1 August 2013. I have found this report in the Age that 40 single men arrived there on that day
The Executive summary in the report goes onto say
Before August 2013, the transferees at the Manus Centre were largely compliant as they knew it was only a matter of time before they were brought to Australia if their refugee claims were accepted. Now, a much larger number of them were to be accommodated at the centre on the basis that they would never come to Australia.
The change in policy required immediate response.
At a practical level, the facilities at the Centre were rapidly increased to accommodate the new arrivals. By the end of August 2013, Oscar compound was ready for occupation and the ground had been prepared for the construction of Mike, which was completed and occupied before the end of the year.
However the caretaker period soon intervened following the issue of writs on 5 August 2013 and no significant progress on policy and financial issues was made until after the election on 7 September 2013.
If we then look at the above information, we can see that only two compounds existing that could be filled under Labor viz: Delta and Foxtrot.
On August 2 another plane arrived with Asylum seekers . Unfortunately it doesn’t tell you how many there were.
On August 6 another report in the SMH says a third group of Asylum seekers were taken to Manus.
So if 40 at a time were taken then that makes a total of 120 under the Labor government in 5 days.
On 10th August at least 157 Asylum seekers were on Manus in this report from the Age.
Nowhere in the report is a timeline or a diagram of the 2 compounds which were being used at Manus.
So nothing was done with Transferees to Manus until 1 August and after that 157 people were there on 10 August. Barely a month later on the Election was held on 7th September 2013.
It was after that election that the number increased rapidly to 1340 people.
The report goes onto say that Scott Morrison implemented operation Sovereign Borders on 18th September 2013 and that as part of that operation the General in charge, Lt Gen Angus Campbell visited and undertook a “force security review” between 14 and 18 October (a month later).
Of course we will never see under this secretive Government what Campbell found and suggested to the minister because of the secrecy surrounding the operation. We will never know the criteria that he used to consider this “force security review” or what recommendations he made to the minister.
What we do know is the following.
1/ If this was a Military operation it was poor because:-
a) The compounds had very poor and insecure fencing around them.
b) The detainees were not being processed in a speedy manner.
c) The detainees were given no hope of a new life in a safe country.
d) The detainees knew that Papua New Guinea was an essentially lawless country with third world facilities and little prospects for starting a new life there.
Because of these reasons the Manus Island Detention Centre was a powder keg waiting for the blue touch paper to be lit.
If this was a Military operation, why were civilian guards used?
Where was the training?
If the guards were unarmed why was a transferee slashed by a knife or other weapon on 16th February by one of the Papua New Guinea Guards employed by G4S?
The report describes the events leading up to the disturbances on 16th, 17th and 18th February in this way.
The lead up from 26 January 2014.
The intelligence reports compiled by G4S monitored the growing tension in the Centre after Australia Day and accurately predicted severe protests and violence around 16.17 and 18 February 2014. The intelligence briefs also reported that some of the transferees were preparing makeshift weapons for use in the anticipated disruption.
If this were the case then where did those intelligence reports go and what action was taken by the officer in charge of Operation Sovereign Borders and the Minister?
The tension that had been building reached a flashpoint following a meeting between community leaders from all four compounds and PNG and Australian immigration officials on the afternoon of 16 February 2014.
At that meeting the transferees were given official answers to questions they had raised on 5 February 2014 primarily about refugee status determination, timeframes and resettlement procedures. The transferees felt that, after waiting 12 days, they were given no new information at the Sunday meeting and that their questions had not been satisfactorily answered.
Sunday 16 February 2014
The Transferee’s frustration and anger following that meeting resulted in disruption and violence in Oscar compound that evening and noisy protests in Foxtrot and Mike compounds.
About 30 to 35 transferees escaped from Oscar when the gates were opened for the dinner delivery but they were caught by the guards and returned. G4S guards also entered Oscar and attacked transferees, causing physical injuries and some property damage.
When he was brought back into the compound, one transferee was attacked from behind by an unidentified PNG national G4S guard who slashed his neck, causing a 10 to 12 centimetre horizontal slit across his throat. The Transferee, who has recovered, was very lucky because, although the slash cut through the skin on his neck leaving a gaping wound, there was no internal damage.
I have to stop here and make a comment about the absolute callousness of this last statement. Firstly I would like to ask, how has he recovered? Is the man completely back to the same state of mind as he was before his throat was cut? And how is he “lucky”? For god’s sake he has just had his life nearly taken. The callousness goes on however.
Eight transferees were arrested and charged by the PNG Police as a result of their participation in this protest.
Yet the PNG national who worked for G4S and who slashed a man’s throat was “unidentified”?
If this is a Military operation, surely they know from minute to minute who is at work and what duties they have to perform?
Surely they have duty rosters and the names of the personnel who are at work and what they are doing.
One would have thought that at any particular time in any particular place the use of this chain of command with a set of operational procedures and the administration of those procedures could have identified who was attending that compound on that night.
Such procedures could have identified what PNG natives were there on scene in order to interview them, search them and their billets for weapons and obtain forensic evidence of any sharp weapons found thus apprehending the murderer.
Later in the report it says that all G4S personnel are unarmed. If that is the case what procedures are carried out to make sure that they are in fact not carrying any offensive weapons prior to reporting to duty? Again if this is a Military operation, it leaves a lot to be desired in operating procedures to make sure the transferees and other guards are safe.
Continuing on with the summary
Monday –Tuesday, 17 – 18 February 2014
The atmosphere in the Centre was tense on Monday but there were no protests during the day. Some staff did not want to go into the compounds that day and the service providers did not oblige them to do so. The Salvation Army, the welfare service provider, opened the canteens but did not conduct any programs.
The summary goes onto say that they removed any potential weapons and other things that would cause problems. Then:-
On the evening of 17 February 2014, there was a violent protest by some transferees in Mike, Oscar and Foxtrot compounds (the transferees in Delta compound took no part).
Before the disruption started, all non essential staff were sent out of the Centre.
In other words they knew something was going to happen. Could it be because a man had just had his throat cut the night before?
The violent protest involved fences being pushed over; property being damaged; and both transferees and provider staff being injured.
The G4S Incident Response Teams (referred to as IRT’s) worked as hard as they could to control the riot, protect transferees and prevent damage to the Centre and its infrastructure. However, the IRT’s do not have any weapons. They have only personal protection gear (helmets clothing and shields). There was a limit to what they could achieve when compound fences were breached and they were confronting large numbers of transferees trying to push through them.
The IRT that was holding the line at the main entrance to Mike compound finally had to withdraw back along Route Pugwash (the road outside the Centre) to Gate 1. The mobile squad, a division of the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary stationed permanently outside the Centre, remained near the gates to the green zone between Foxtrot and Mike.
The mobile squad was understood to be responsible only for dealing with external threats to the centre, not internal disruption, but the review notes it is a criminal offence in PNG for a member of the police Force not to supress a riot in his neighbourhood unless he has a reasonable excuse.
My comment here is that if there is a written agreement that the Police mobile squad are only to be used outside the Centre then they have a reasonable excuse and should not have entered the centre.
After the IRT left and without any warning to or arrangement with the G4S, the mobile squad pushed over the fence and entered Mike. As G4S no longer had an incident response team there at this point, the review relies on transferee accounts, medical reports, observations of bullet holes and the obvious outcomes of the disturbance to describe what happened next.
What happened next is that the mobile squad attacked and bashed transferees. They went into the accommodation blocks and dragged transferees out of their rooms and assaulted them, they stole their property and they shot one transferee in the buttock and several other firearms were discharged, evidenced by the bullet holes in the walls.
After the Papuan mobile squad had finished their mayhem, the G4S personnel were able to re enter the compounds and look toward the injured. This is what the report says about them.
The worst injury was sustained by Reza Barati. Mr Barati suffered a severe brain injury caused by a brutal beating by several assailants and died a few hours later.
The review interviewed an eye witness to Mr Barati’s assault. He said the attack was led by an identified PNG national employed by the Salvation Army and he named several other witnesses who he says can corroborate his statement.
Two other serious injuries were sustained by a transferee who lost his right eye as a result of the bashing he received and a transferee who was shot in the buttocks, with a bullet lodging in his right hip.
Mr Barati and those other two men were treated at the emergency triage centre and sent to the Hospital in Lorengau, the provincial capital.
The report says that at least 69 transferees were treated for a range of injuries, including broken bones and lacerations. Eight patients were taken to Port Moresby and one to Australia for more specialised medical treatment.
Nine additional medical health professionals were sent to the facility.
The report says:
While there were some physical injuries to service provider staff, only one was categorised as serious by G4S.
None of the details of these injuries are given.
To get to the bottom of this the review did the following:
- Conducted four, two hour question and answer sessions with community leaders from each compound. A total of 8 hours face to face with these people
- Interviewed four transferees individually (Out of a total of 1340 transferees)
- Received 270 written personal accounts from, or on behalf of, over 300 transferees.
This section says nothing about the actions taken in relation to interviewing G4S staff. But it does say they reviewed hundreds of reports and other documents relevant to the enquiry.
That is pretty poor investigation for one murder and several attempts at murder.
If this was a military operation I don’t want the people who planned it to fight any battles on my behalf. It seems to me to have been the most unplanned and out of control plan ever devised.
Not only does training appear to have been poor the Liberal National Party seem to be blaming the Labor Party for setting up this Centre in the first place.
Whilst I cannot agree with the Refugee policy of the Labor Party and will always decry it in any public and private forum as bad, harsh and immoral, that does not absolve the Liberal National Coalition of their responsibility for actually running this centre with the same or worse policy.
It is not possible to absolve yourself from blame by blaming others. You had a choice not to adopt the Manus Policy but you didn’t take that choice, you chose to continue with the policy. In fact you still continue with the policy.
I would remind readers that it was five months from September to February and bearing in mind that none other than a Lieutenant General had visited the centre to do a “Force Security Review” four months before the riots. Where is that document?
It is quite clear to me that the majority of the trouble was caused by the Papua New Guinea local workers and their Mobile police squad. Evidenced by:-
- The transferee who had his throat cut on the evening of 16 February.
- Reza Barati who was murdered by being assaulted and battered by a number of people on 17/18 February 2014.
- The man who was shot in the buttock on the night of 17/18 February 2014.
- The man who lost his right eye after being assaulted on the night of 17/18 February 2014.
- The “at least” 65 people who had various injuries which required medical attention at the make shift triage area on the wharf near the expat’s accommodation barge. Including broken limbs and contusions.
- The number of people who had to be evacuated to better medical facilities in Port Moresby and one to Australia.
As opposed to the one serious injury of the G4S staff.
It appears that this report uses the excuse that the transferees were too frightened to talk to the investigation and no wonder. But that is no excuse.
This riot and its aftermath show the result of poor policy determination, the problems with secrecy and most of all the absolute disgrace which is the attitude of Australians to asylum seekers generally.
In my opinion the centre at Manus should be shut down immediately as should the one at Nauru.
Proper measures should be taken to process asylum seekers in Indonesia and they should then be welcomed to Australia.
In the meantime we should put much more time and effort into international diplomacy so that we can stop war and the necessity of people to flee from persecution and live happy lives in the country of their birth.