CANBERRA: A violent protest culminated in a breakout from an immigrant detention camp Australia runs in Papua New Guinea where one asylum seeker was killed and scores were hurt, an Australian official said Tuesday.
The escalating unrest at the camp has heightened pressure on Australia to close its South Pacific detention camps, but the government was holding firm on its policy aimed at deterring asylum seekers from making the dangerous sea journey to Australia.
One man died from head injuries as he was taken to the hospital, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said. He would not disclose the asylum seeker's nationality, or say how he had sustained the injuries.
Papua New Guinea police opened fire after hundreds of male detainees pushed down the perimeter fence and spilled into the street around the Manus Island camp late Monday, Morrison said. The camp's security guards had used shields to push back the asylum seekers, he said.
One asylum seeker was shot in a buttock and was flown to the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby for hospital treatment, he said. Another was flown to Australia for treatment of a fractured skull, he said.
In recent years, thousands of people seeking asylum in Australia have attempted the risky journey by boat, mostly using Indonesia as a transit point from poor, war-torn homelands. Australia has intercepted them at sea and sent them to detention camps at Manus Island or the tiny Pacific atoll nation of Nauru while their refugee claims are evaluated.
Morrison initially said the injuries had occurred outside the camp during violence that ended early Tuesday morning.
He later said he was uncertain whether the fatal injuries had been inflicted within the camp or outside. Papua New Guinea authorities would investigate, he said.
Papua New Guinea national police spokesman Dominic Kakas said a police investigation had not yet been mounted.
Ian Rintoul, spokesman for the Australian advocacy group Refugee Action Coalition, said he had spoken to inmates inside the Manus camp and was told asylum seekers had been attacked by police and local residents.
Gangs of police and locals - armed with machetes, pipes, sticks and stones - had roamed from compound to compound within the camp attacking asylum seekers, the coalition said.
"It must be clear now that asylum seekers cannot live safely on Manus Island," Rintoul said in a statement.
But Morrison and the contractor that operates the camp, G4S, denied that any outsider had breached the perimeter fence or attacked anyone inside the camp.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott discussed the violence with his Papua New Guinea counterpart Peter O'Neill.
Morrison said Australia had been assured that Papua New Guinea remained committed to hosting the detention camp and resettling genuine refugees among its population. Papua New Guinea also undertook to investigate the violence, he said.
Local Manus lawmaker Ron Knight blamed G4S for "shoddy camp management."
Morrison described the violence as the latest in a series of protests at the camp, which houses around 1,300 men from countries including Afghanistan, Sudan's Darfur region, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Somalia, and Syria.
The number of security guards had been increased last week, which Morrison said had prevented the camp from being destroyed.
"This is a tragedy, but this was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the center and place themselves at great risk," he told reporters.
The violence followed a less serious brawl at the same facility on Sunday night that led to the arrests of eight asylum seekers and another 19 being treated for injuries.
Morrison said 77 people received medical treatment after the latest violence and 13 had been seriously injured.
Amnesty International condemned the camp and joined Australian opposition parties in calling for an independent investigation of the violence.
G4S said camp staffers were trying to account for all the detainees Tuesday.