Amnesty challenges Australian claim over shooting on Manus Island

The cover image from the new Amnesty International report In The Firing Line. Image: AI

Pacific Media Centre News Desk

Digital verification of images and videos establish that bullets were fired directly into the Manus refugee centre last month, putting the lives of refugees and asylum-seekers there in danger, a new Amnesty International briefing report says today.

The new briefing, In the Firing Line, directly contradicts initial claims made by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Papua New Guinea Police, suggesting that the soldiers only fired bullets into the air.

“Our investigation shows there is no doubt that on 14 April 2017 bullets were fired not only into the air but directly into the Manus refugee centre in a way that seriously endangered the lives of the people inside,” said Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher.

“This was not an isolated incident. Refugees trapped on Manus Island have faced several violent attacks in the past.  They are the direct result of an inherently abusive system put in place by the Australian government. Until that system is dismantled and the refugees are brought to safety, the threat to their lives will remain.”

Amnesty International is calling for a prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigation into what exactly happened on April 14 (“Good Friday”).

One month after the incident, the Australian government had failed to conduct an investigation, issue a formal statement, or release the CCTV footage of the shooting for independent verification and analysis, Amnesty International said in a statement.

Blaming the victims
Peter Dutton, Australia’s Immigration Minister, sought to diminish the seriousness of the shooting, drawing a link, on the basis of no evidence, to an incident weeks before, when a 10-year-old boy had entered the centre, implying that the child was at risk.

“Instead of waiting for the results of an investigation, Dutton has inflamed matters by making an irresponsible and unfounded claim about the shooting incident,” said Schuetze.

Refugees at Manus have expressed shock and dismay at Dutton’s resort to innuendo and allegations on the basis of no proof. An Afghan refugee said that he and other friends only gave him some food after he found him asking for food and money.

The 34-year-old Afghan refugee told ABC: “I experienced hunger, I experienced being thirsty, I experienced poverty and I know how it feels for a child to be hungry. And when I see that I cannot just close my eyes and not help.”

Refugees at Manus have said that guards at the centre and CCTV footage could verify their account.

“For Dutton to make such a claim is outrageous behaviour unworthy of a senior government official. For him then to try and connect it, weeks later, to drunken soldiers shooting at a refugee centre is reckless in the extreme and will put the lives of people there at even greater risk,” said Schuetze.

The refugees have now lodged a formal complaint with the Australian authorities about Dutton’s comments and are pleading for the authorities to release the CCTV footage which they say will exonerate them.

‘Shut down Manus now’ call
Following a Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruling last year that said the Manus Island detention centre is operating illegally, the Australian government has said that it will be shut down later this year.

Amnesty International has called on the Australian government to take action immediately.

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