Asylum seekers riot and escape

A second incident has occurred at the Manus Island detention centre. During the first incident on Sunday night 35 asylum seekers escaped from the centre after a violent clash with security staff.

Protests had been building during the day, but reports indicate that the unrest came to a head following a meeting on Sunday evening, in which asylum seekers were told by immigration officials that, if the asylum seekers were not found to be legitimate refugees, then Australia and Papua New Guinea would not help them find countries in which to resettle.

Following the meeting asylum seekers tried to shatter windows, and several bunk beds were broken to create weapons before 35 detainees left the compound via destroyed fences.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday during a press conference that all escapees had been “accounted for”, and that 19 asylum seekers had been treated for “non-life-threatening” injuries.

When asked if any asylum seeker on Manus Island had yet been found to be a refugee, he answered “Not yet, no”, which could explain the distress of the centre’s residents after the Sunday night briefing.

Of the incident, Mr Morrison said, “If you don’t want to be in immigration detention, don’t come illegally to Australia … It is impossible not to feel sorry for people who want a better life and are living in a horrible country and I guess it’s good they think Australia is a beacon. We are a beacon of decency and generosity but we cannot allow people to take advantage of our generosity in this way.”

After the events of Sunday night Labor immigration spokesperson Richard Marles said the Government need to ensure this kind of incident never happened again. “This is now the second serious incident which has occurred at the Manus Island detention facility since the Abbott Government came to power.”

His comments came just hours before another bout of violent riots took place at the centre last night. Asylum seekers have once again escaped from the centre, and Mr Morrison said in a statement this morning that the incident was more serious than Sunday’s violent protests.

Non-essential staff have been evacuated from the facility and the asylum seekers who escaped may still be missing. It is not yet known how many have escaped. “The extent and nature of the subsequent events and perimeter breaches is still being verified. However, I am advised that all staff have been accounted for, our service providers are in control of the centre and there has been no damage to critical infrastructure or accommodation at the centre,” explained Mr Morrison.

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Opinion: Rioting was inevitable

Last year the United Nations (UN) found that Australia was guilty of almost 150 violations of international law regarding its treatment of asylum seekers. Earlier this year the UN warned Australia that ‘boat push-backs’ may again breach international law. Twice in the space of six months we have been told that our treatment of asylum seekers is so abhorrent as to be illegal behaviour.

With this in mind I have difficulty agreeing with Mr Morrison’s statement that Australia is “a beacon of decency and generosity”.

Last night’s riot and subsequent break out was the third serious incident to occur at the Manus Island detention centre since September last year. The people in that detention centre are waiting for Australia’s Government to grant them entry into Australia, because they fear for their lives in their own countries. They wouldn’t riot and risk that chance unless the situation on Manus Island was truly desperate.

I find it difficult to believe that not a single person at the Manus Island detention centre is a legitimate refugee. And yet Mr Morrison stated that nobody had yet been given refugee status. To me that says either we are turning people away who deserve our help, or nobody is being processed at all.

If you were imprisoned for months, even years, on end, waiting in limbo on the whim of a government which has been less than welcoming, I imagine you’d be getting frustrated and desperate to the point of rioting too.

These riots at the Manus Island detention centre are a symptom of a much larger problem, one which we have brought on ourselves through our treatment of those asking for our help. I think that Australia has the potential to live up to Mr Morrison’s statement – we could be a beacon of decency and generosity. It’s in our culture and in our blood to help the little guy, to offer our support to those who can’t help themselves. But right now Australia isn’t displaying any of its better qualities, and those who need our help the most are suffering.

What do you think? Has the Government brought these riots on itself? Or is it doing the right thing by holding a hard line against letting asylum seekers into Australia?