6 May 2014

Inquiry told PNG contractors responsible for Manus death

From , 5:04 am on 6 May 2014

A submission to an Australian Senate Inquiry says the Iranian asylum seeker killed at the Manus Island camp was set upon by local PNG security guards and beaten to death with a lump of wood.

The independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, has filed a submission based on a first-hand account of an Australian G4s security officer who was working at the centre during the unrest in February, when 23-year-old Reza Berati died.

The security guard, who no longer works at the camp and wishes to remain anonymous, says up to 40 shots were fired the night Reza Berati died, and PNG guards reacted brutally to the unrest.

He says expat guards had to stand between PNG guards and detainees and were lucky not to be seriously injured.

Mr Wilkie told Mary Baines the security officer approached him because he is concerned about the welfare of detainees and safety of expat guards there.

ANDREW WILKIE: Now I need to be a little careful how I characterise what happened to the dead asylum seeker, but on the face of it, he was murdered. And presumably the PNG government and the Australian government are very interested in getting to the bottom of it and holding to account those who killed the man.

MARY BAINES: There are witnesses, yet no charges have been laid in relation to the death of Mr Berati. Why is this?

AW: The current Australian Federal government would be quite happy to sweep this under the carpet. But whether or not it can get away with that remains to be seen. I hope it's doubtful. Because there are a number of inquiries now looking into the events of 16 to 18 February.

MB: The security guard has said that the PNG guards made an attempt to collect the shell casings that night from the gun shots to cover up their actions. So with that being said, do you think anyone will ever be held accountable for what happened?

AW: It remains to be seen, but it is dramatic evidence that not one, but 30 or 40 rounds he counted, were fired. And these were high-powered military style weapons. Presumably they were being fired over peoples' heads as a warning but when you start firing that amount of ammunition in such a fractious and violent situation, more people were probably more likely to be killed and how they weren't was just a miracle. It also suggests a certain breakdown in law and order during the event. I mean it wasn't like just the G4S or even the PNG police were involved. The camp was at one point somewhat overrun by PNG nationals, by local members of the community, who were allowed to come into the detention centre and join in on the violence against the detainees. Again leaving the expat guards stuck in the middle, trying to break up the fight and trying to protect the detainees. A terrible position to find yourself in.

MB: [The security guard] does talk about a complete lack of control, the poorest training he has ever seen and the most unprofessional organisation he has ever dealt with. So what's the Australian government doing about that?

AW: We don't know for sure what the government will do. It has to ensure that the new contractor, Transfield, honours the contract that has been signed with it and that it runs a safe and effective detention centre. I mean I oppose mandatory detention, but if we're going to have it let's at least make sure that people who have been paid to run them do an effective job. We also need the Australian government to make sure the PNG government understands that it's security services must act appropriately. And it's simply not acceptable when asylum seekers are understandably, I think in the circumstances, rioting, to start firing weapons or allowing things to tumble out of control where someone is killed.  There are other ways to settle people down. They need to look at the whole lay-out of the camp. The lay-out is such that this sort of riot could occur and such large numbers of people could mass at one time. They need to work out better ways to communicate what's going on to detainees. Because that's what seems to be the start of these two days of riots, when the leaders within the asylum seeker community were brought in and told it would take so long for their claims to be processed and they shouldn't count on making their way to Australia.