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Hunger strike detainees jailed

Wednesday 21 January 2015 | Published in Regional


LORENGAU – Asylum seekers at the Manus Island detention centre have vowed to continue their hunger strike despite the temporary jailing of more than 40 men from Delta compound.

Advocates who have been in contact with asylum seekers said hundreds of men have continued their hunger strike, with many also refusing water.

A three-day blockade of Delta Compound ended on Monday when civilian security guards forced their way in through a gate. The PNG government said that while some asylum seekers were restrained by guards, there were no serious injuries.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said there was a “physical confrontation” with detainees and some had “home-fashioned weapons” – but there were no serious injuries.

By cellphone an asylum seeker from Foxtrot compound told the ABC: “What happened in Delta, it really scared us but we are not going to stop our hunger strike, it will continue,”

PNG police said more than 40 asylum seekers were detained in the provincial prison and another four were being held in the police cells.

However asylum seekers said a higher number of men were arrested.

“Right now we are 58 people inside the PNG jail and PNG police squad they beat us. They are torturing us in here and they put us here without any judge warrant,” The ABC quotes an asylum seeker who said he was among those detained.

Neither the claims from asylum seekers or government officials could be independently verified because media access is forbidden at the Australian-run centre.

The jailed asylum seekers have not been charged but have been isolated while PNG police carry out a search of their compound, looking for weapons, mobile phones and other contraband.

There were conflicting reports about the level of force used by guards to break up the blockade at Delta compound on Monday afternoon.

Dutton said physical force was necessary to quell the disturbance, because some protesters were armed.

“We’re not talking about firearms, for example, we’re talking about homemade or home-fashioned weapons,” he said, declining to go into further detail.

The PNG government confirmed police were in attendance but said they were not needed and stayed back.

PNG’s immigration minister Rimbink Pato said the stand-off at Delta compound was brought under control using “minimal force”.

“We did not want to escalate the situation further by forcing entry into this compound, but we knew that there were people inside who needed to get out,” Pato said in a statement.

“The unlawful behaviour included damaging property, throwing of rocks and furniture over the fence and prevention of entrance by the lawful authorities and had to be brought under control.

Pato said the actions of the most vocal asylum seekers do not necessarily reflect the views of all those detained on Manus Island.

“Most asylum seekers are peaceable people who simply want their refugee claims processed as quickly as possible so they can start rebuilding their lives in PNG,” he said.

“They have fled situations of conflict and do not want to be part of the aggressive behaviour that agitators have shown.”

However, asylum seekers and their advocates continued to reject the idea of a peaceful intervention to the stand-off at Delta compound.

An asylum seeker from the Foxtrot compound told the ABC that he witnessed police enter a back gate of Delta compound, while the security guards were focused on another entrance.

“When the guys are really busy with the guards, the police start attacking them from behind, they start beating them,” the asylum seeker said.

“They beat them very seriously actually, we have seen many, many people really bleeding. I have seen 15 guys they carried on a stretcher.

“Today we have read what the minister said to the media but that will not stop us and we will never ever stop our hunger strike,” the detainee said.

“If they want to negotiate with us we will accept their negotiation but there’s one option– they have to take us out of PNG. Otherwise we will not accept any negotiation.”