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29 December 2012

Refugees scuffle as advocates protest detention

hirsi.ali.cartoon.gifSEVEN people including a staff member were injured in a Christmas Eve scuffle between asylum seekers in the Australian immigration detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, confirmed seven people sustained minor injuries in the clash between Tamils and Iranians.

It is believed the incident was in the internet room, when the Iranian detainees tried to recruit the Tamil detainees to protest, and the Tamils refused.

A staff member for G4S, the company contracted to run the centre on behalf of the Australian government, was among those hurt. All were treated on site.


PNG police attended the centre and spoke to witnesses but have not taken any action. An investigation is ongoing.

The minister's spokesman said after the incident about 20 Iranian detainees staged a sit-in in the internet room for much of the day, before ending their protest voluntarily. About 130 people are being held on Manus Island, including women and about 30 children.

The centre is holding detainees from Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. News of the incident came as lawyers and human rights advocates strongly criticised proposals before Parliament which would extend offshore processing to any asylum seeker who reached the Australian mainland by boat without authorisation. Currently, asylum seekers who reach the mainland by boat cannot be transferred to Nauru or PNG for offshore processing, unlike those who reach outlying islands.

The change was one of the recommendations of an expert panel chaired by the former defence chief Angus Houston, the refugee advocate Paris Aristotle and the Foreign Affairs secretary Michael L'Estrange.

In its submission to a Senate inquiry into the bill, the Australian Human Rights Commission said the proposal risked breaching numerous rights and obligations, including the right to freedom from arbitrary detention, the right to humane treatment, and the obligation not to penalise asylum seekers for arriving without authorisation.

In its submission,the Law Council of Australia said the proposal was ''inconsistent with the spirit and purpose'' of the refugee convention to which Australia is a party, and undermined Australia's obligations under other human rights conventions.

The Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre said the proposal to effectively excise the Australian continent from the migration zone was ''unnecessary, perpetuates a legal fiction which continues to represent no more than an irresponsible avoidance of international obligations to which Australia has committed, and will likely cause damage to those people we have committed to protect.''

It said the bill perpetuated discriminatory treatment of refugees who arrived by boat, compared with those who arrived by air, with or without authorisation. People had a right to seek protection from persecution, regardless of their manner of arrival.

The centre said by denying asylum seekers, who were transferred offshore, access to the Australian legal system and due legal process Australia risked breaching its obligation not to return people to harm.

A spokesman for Mr Bowen said the bill aimed to prevent people from attempting the more dangerous journey to the Australian mainland to secure a different outcome.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/refugees-scu...

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