The Australian government’s review of the February violence on Manus Island leaves critical questions unanswered and does not call for the detention camp to be closed.
Robert Cornall’s 107-page administrative review, released on May 26, includes a detailed account of 23-year-old Reza Berati’s death and identifies a Salvation Army employee as instigating the attack.
The report on the large-scale assault by Papua New Guinea security staff, Australian expatriates and locals on detainees inside two compounds concluded that the “incidents were initiated by transferee protests”. Its recommendations included increased security and reducing the processing time for refugee claims. It reaffirmed that no one could be resettled in Australia.
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) said the report’s assessment “failed to critically examine the Australian Government policy responsible for sending the murdered and injured asylum seekers to Manus Island”.
RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said: “[immigration minister] Scott Morrison claims that the Cornall report noted it was not possible to isolate one factor that could have mitigated injuries or damage.
“However, it is obvious that what happened on Manus Island was the end result of a system designed to be so cruel that it would act as a deterrent to asylum seekers arriving by boat to plead for refugee protection in Australia.”
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) campaign coordinator Pamela Curr said Morrison has continued to blame the victims — the asylum seekers — and refused to take responsibility.
“Claiming that nothing would have happened had there been no protest reveals just how much blame shifting the government is engaged in,” she said. “It shows a distinct lack of accountability, which raises serious concerns for preventing similar events in future.
“This tragedy did not occur because of protests; it occurred because the policy of offshore processing is a failure. For 18 months there was no system in place to process refugee claims. The recent progress raises serious questions regarding a fair and just assessment process.”
The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network said the report “failed to link the death of Berati to the Australian government's dehumanisation of refugees”.
Police on Manus Island investigating Berati’s death also criticised the report, calling it a “major cover up”. The report was inconclusive and “hampers our ongoing investigation into the riot”, Deputy Police Commissioner Simon Kauba said in a statement.
However, Kauba’s version of events contradicted witness accounts. Cornall wrote that the PNG police mobile squad entered the compound and fired bullets that lodged at chest height in walls. Kauba said PNG police did not enter the area and only fired warning shots into the air.
Many asylum seekers were afraid to speak with PNG police after the violence, telling Australian lawyers they had been receiving death threats from locals.
Refugee advocates in Australia also pointed out that it has been more than 100 days since Berati’s murder and yet no charges have been laid against any individual.
The ASRC said: “The Australian government cannot guarantee the safety of asylum seekers and it cannot abide by its international obligations. Any improvements to facilities will still see asylum seekers held in prolonged detention in harsh conditions.”
The Manus Island facility must be closed and asylum seekers brought to Australia for resettlement.