Australian and PNG authorities must respect asylum seekers’ right to protest

Amnesty International is calling on the governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea to protect the rights and welfare of asylum seekers currently protesting their detention in the Manus Island Detention Centre. 

Hunger strikes 

“The authorities must, as far as possible, ensure the health, welfare and safety of protesting detainees, and respect their right to protest peacefully, including through hunger strikes,” said Graeme McGregor, Refugee Campaign Coordinator. 

“Security guards and police must ensure that their response to protest is restrained and proportionate to the circumstances.” 

The call follows media reports that on the night of Friday 16 January security staff entered the detention centre’s living compounds, where asylum seekers have been staging hunger strikes to protest the length and conditions of their detention, as well as plans to move recognised refugees to housing they deem unsafe. 

Conditions in the centre 

Many of the men have been in detention since August 2013. Amnesty International visited the detention centre and found that some conditions in the centre violate the UN Convention Against Torture. 

The Australian Government has given no evidence that those conditions have been improved. Amnesty International concluded that the facility is designed to pressure asylum seekers to return regardless of whether they will face persecution in the countries from which they fled. 

Reza Berati 

The current unrest follows the violence of February 2014, when security staff and police entered the living compounds at the detention centre, assaulting detainees with sticks, machetes and guns. 

Reza Berati, a 24 year old Iranian, was killed in the violence and at least 62 other detainees were injured. 

Only two arrests have been made in relation to the death of Mr Berati and no one has been prosecuted. 

Since that time, asylum seekers have reported to Amnesty International that they continue to receive threats from local staff and people. 

Detainees also have communicated their fears about the risks they feel they will face if relocated into the local community following recognition of their refugee status. 

Right to peaceful protest 

Despite plans to move recognised refugees to temporary accommodation outside of the detention centre and allow them some freedom of movement, the Australian and Papua New Guinea authorities have not made public any measures to protect the refugees from violence or ease tensions between detainees and people in the local community. 

The Australian government, which has effective control of the detention centre, is legally responsible for the ensuring the health and welfare of the asylum seekers and refugees they detain on Manus Island. 

Amnesty International calls on the Australian government: to respect the right of detainees to protest peacefully; to ensure the welfare and safety of the asylum seekers and refugees it detains; to ensure justice for Reza Berati; and to take demonstrable measures to protect the health, welfare and rights of recognised refugees relocated to temporary accommodation in the local community.