British firm part of Australian investigation into detention centre riot

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 21, 2014 12:12 AM

By Matt Siegel

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An investigation into deadly clashes this week at an immigration detention center in Papua New Guinea will examine possible misconduct by private security contractors, Australia's immigration minister said on Friday.

One asylum seeker was killed and more than 60 were injured during riots at a facility on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea that houses asylum seekers as part of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's tough policies to deter them from coming to Australia.

Several detainees allege they were set upon with makeshift weapons by Papua New Guinea police and PNG employees of Britain's G4S, the world's biggest security group, which is responsible for security at the facility.

"I wish to stress that the review will look closely at any actions of those contracted to provide services at the center in a safe and secure manner," Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Australia uses detention centers at Manus Island and another on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru to process would-be refugees sent there after trying to get to Australia, often in unsafe boats after paying people smugglers in Indonesia.

The number of asylum seekers reaching Australia pales in comparison with other countries but it is a polarizing political issue that also stokes tension with neighboring Indonesia over border policies that have been criticized by the United Nations and international human rights groups.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said the Manus Island camp should be shut because it fails to provide "safe and humane conditions of treatment in detention".

Morrison said the riot began when detainees forced their way out of the center. However, refugee advocates said it was triggered when Manus Island residents, G4S employees and PNG police stormed the facility, attacking the asylum seekers.

In a statement on Wednesday, G4S said that it was taking the allegations seriously and supported an independent investigation into the disturbances.

"G4S is concerned by allegations that Papua New Guinea nationals working for G4S may have been involved in the violence against transferees on Manus Island," it said.

G4S recently lost a tender to continue providing services at the facility, which will be taken over as soon as this month by Australian firm Transfield Services Ltd. Transfield runs the detention center on Nauru.

G4S has a checkered recent history. In 2012, it failed to provide enough staff for the London Olympics, and has since been involved in problems with an electronic tagging contract in Britain and unrest at prisons it has run in South Africa and Britain.

(Editing by Paul Tait)