CHURCHES and refugee advocates are calling for asylum seekers on Manus Island to be evacuated to Australia after shots were fired when local men tried to storm the facility.
The Human Rights Law Centre, the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce and Amnesty International have said the shooting incident on Friday shows the centre is not safe and the refugees and asylum seekers detained there must be removed to Australia while resettlement in the US progresses.
The Papua New Guinea Defence Force issued a statement on Saturday saying that the incident was triggered by a disagreement over the use of a football field on the naval base that surrounds the Australian-run camp.
“The asylum seeker residents are supposed to vacate the oval at 6pm daily, and it is alleged that when they were asked to do so to enable dependents of the base to play on the oval, some of them refused,” a statement from the military’s chief of staff says.
“It is alleged that when the base duty officer pursued the matter further, he was assaulted by asylum seekers, which led to an escalation of the confrontation.
“Rocks were allegedly thrown by the asylum seekers, and shots fired by members of the naval base.”
The Australian Immigration and Border Protection Department has confirmed one asylum seeker was hit by a rock and injured during the violence on Good Friday evening.
However, Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian-born journalist and asylum seeker held on Manus Island, says three asylum seekers and some Australian officers were hurt.
The immigration department confirmed an incident had occurred at the detention centre, and that there were “reports PNG military personnel discharged a weapon into the air”.
Boochani said some of the 100 shots he heard had hit accommodation buildings in the compound.
“Last night proved that Australia cannot ensure safety not only for refugees but for its citizens too,” he said on Facebook on Saturday.
The PNG military statement referred to a “few people treated for minor injuries”. It said an investigation was under way and those who had committed an offence would be brought to justice.
The Human Rights Law Centre spokesman Daniel Webb on Saturday said “enough is enough” and that Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, should immediately bring the men to safety in Australia.
“Most of these men were found to be refugees years ago,” he said. “Last night’s attack has again left them terrified and – after four years of fear, violence and limbo – they are completely exhausted.”
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, which represents several Christian church leaders, called on the government to “act with compassion” and evacuate the camp.
“The darkness of betrayal and abandonment that we are familiar with in the Jesus story is being felt keenly by those on Manus Island this weekend,” Peter Catt said in a statement. “By bringing people to Australia, the US [refugee] deal may continue.
“More importantly, the healing of those who have been damaged by our nation’s policy can begin.”
The opposition immigration spokesman, Shayne Neumann, has called for a full investigation at the Australian-funded offshore processing centre, adding that there were conflicting reports about what had happened.
“The culture of secrecy must change,” Neumann said on Saturday. “The Turnbull government must be upfront about what has happened overnight on Manus Island.”
Amnesty International has also called for a prompt and independent investigation, with senior director for research Anna Neistat joining the calls for the asylum seekers to be moved.
“Friday’s shooting serves as just another example that the Manus island detention facility is not a safe place for asylum seekers,” Dr Neistat said. “More incidences like this are inevitable unless the refugees and asylum seekers are relocated to safety.”
The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, says those refugees who aren’t taken under an agreement with the US will settle in PNG, while non-refugees will be sent back to their home country.
Refugees detained on Manus Island would not be coming to Australia, no matter how hard refugee advocates pushed, Dutton said last week.