UNHCR concerned about Manus Island disturbances
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
GENEVA - The UN refugee agency says it in discussions with Australia following two nights of rioting at an immigration detention center in Papua New Guinea, during which one person was killed and around 100 people were injured.
"We are in discussions with the Australian government and welcome their commitment to investigate these events," UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said on Tuesday in a press conference in the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland.
Refugee advocate groups have said that locals and PNG police attacked the Australian center on Manus Island on Monday with machetes, knives and other weapons.
Thirteen of 77 people injured suffered serious injuries and two had to be transferred to Australia for treatment.
The incident followed the escape and arrest of 35 asylum seekers from the center on Sunday - 19 of whom were treated for injuries.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul told ABC news on Tuesday that the asylum seekers should be brought back to Australia as Manus Island is a dangerous place for them.
"From what we heard; that gangs of armed police and locals actually went from compound to compound, you know, hunting down asylum seekers and inflicting very serious injuries on people that they got their hands on," Australia's national broadcaster reported Rintoul as saying.
UNHCR has consistently raised issues around the transfer arrangements and the absence of adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum seekers and refugees in PNG.
Baloch said that significant shortcomings in the legal framework for receiving and processing asylum-seekers from Australia remain, including the lack of national capacity and expertise in processing, and poor physical conditions.
He indicated that UNHCR is ready to work with the Australian government and PNG on how best to ensure that asylum-seekers, refugees and stateless persons receive appropriate protection.
According to a statement by the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), hundreds of asylum seekers have taken part in daily protests on the island since January 25 amid an increase in delays in processing and uncertainty about their future.
The Manus center was built for would-be refugees, many of whom have been found in Australian waters in unsafe boats after paying people smugglers in Indonesia to transport them to Australia.
It is not known where the 1,300 asylum seekers on the island are from, but - according to crowdvoice, an open source online service focusing on social justice movements worldwide - in the past five years 33 percent of maritime arrivals to Australia came from Afghanistan, 21 percent were from Sri Lanka, 20 percent from Iran, 9 percent were stateless, 6 percent were Iraqi, 6 percent were from Pakistan and 5 percent were classified as 'other'.
Manus is in northern Papua New Guinea and is the fifth largest of its islands.
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