Australia failed to protect asylum-seekers: inquiry

Protesters hold placards at the 'Stand up for Refugees' rally held in central Sydney, Australia on Oct 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters hold placards at the 'Stand up for Refugees' rally held in central Sydney, Australia on Oct 11, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian government failed in its duty to protect asylum-seekers at a camp in Papua New Guinea where a February riot left one dead and 69 injured, said a damning parliamentary report released Thursday.

Iranian Reza Barati was killed in the riot at the Manus Island detention centre in February as tensions flared among inmates about their fate under Australia's hardline asylum-seeker policies.

Sixty-nine other were injured in the violence that the Australian Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee branded "eminently foreseeable" and mostly caused by delays in processing refugee claims.

"It is clear from evidence presented to the committee that the Australian government failed in its duty to protect asylum-seekers including Mr. Barati from harm," the 188-page report concluded.

"The committee has found that the events... were eminently foreseeable, and may have been prevented if transferees had been given a clear pathway for the assessment of their asylum claims."

A separate independent review on behalf of the Australian government released in May found that Barati was "brutally beaten" to death by a Salvation Army worker, and warned of a major task to rebuild trust.

PNG police in August charged two men over his murder.

Manus Island houses one of two remote Pacific camps used by Canberra in its tough offshore detention policy. The other is on Nauru.

A total of 2,151 asylum-seekers are held at the facilities, according to immigration figures ending October 31.

Under Canberra's immigration policy, asylum-seekers arriving by boat are transferred to the centres for processing and if their asylum application is successful they are permanently resettled outside Australia.

Only one boat has reached the Australian mainland since December, compared to almost daily arrivals previously under the Labor administration.

The committee, which is dominated by the opposition Labor and Greens parties, called on the Australian government to assist PNG police in their investigations into the riot and respect the human rights of the people detained at the processing centre.

They also urged the government to compensate Barati's family, asylum-seekers injured in the violence and others who have suffered human rights violations.

Two members of the six-person committee who are part of the ruling conservative coalition disagreed with the findings and blamed the previous Labor government for the problems at Manus Island.

Rights group Amnesty International said the report painted "yet another damning picture of Australia's treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers" and said there was an urgent need to end offshore processing policies.

"While the human rights organisation welcomes the report findings... the obvious failure of both governments to accept they share responsibility for the serious incident remains," Amnesty's refugee coordinator Graham Thom said in a statement.