Manus Detention Centre Bears Blame For PNG Pair’s Deaths, Families Say
By Jo Chandler
The relatives of two local men killed on Manus Island by members of the Papua New Guinean police mobile squad have blamed the presence of the detention centre on the island for their deaths.
The squad is deployed to the island by the PNG government but subsidised by Australia. Its tactics, and the failure of Australian authorities to control it, were identified in a Senate committee report released last week as key contributors to February’s riots in which the the Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati died.
Raymond Sipaun, 21, was savagely beaten in public view at the Lorengau market by mobile squad officers in July 2013. His father found him unconscious in a police cell. He could not be revived.
“The occurrence of my son’s death is due to this asylum seekers program in Manus,” James Sipaun told Guardian Australia.
He and his wife had “a very deep grief, and these mobile squad police they are still enjoying the privileges from the Australian government, the free housing, the allowances. This makes us very, very upset.”
The detention centre is at Lombrum, a 45-minute drive from Lorengau, the Manus provincial capital. Squad members continue to drive up and down the Lorengau road in their Land Cruisers several times a day. The Senate report confirms that all costs relating to their deployment have been met by Australia.
Sipaun said he did not understand why the squad — which has a fearsome reputation in PNG and is usually enlisted to protect resources projects in highly volatile regions — was in Manus province. Regular police could more appropriately do the job, he said.
“I am not against the law,” said Sipaun, who works for the Lorengau works department and is chairman of the Catholic parish council. “My son was drunk. They could arrest him and lock him up, but not kill him.”
Five officers were charged over Raymond’s death. Adjourned twice, the case is listed for February.
No Australian officials have contacted the Sipaun family or the relatives of 17-year-old Kisawen Pokas, who was run over and killed by an allegedly drunk mobile squad officer while walking home from school in Lorengau on 19 June.
Before the accident, witnesses said, the driver and another taskforce officer had been riding around with local girls. They were drinking “and not fully clothed”, Kisawen’s mother, Siwa Sinek, told Guardian Australia.
“The taskforce, the mobile squad, I don’t really blame them,” Sinek said. “I will blame the driver himself. His conduct wasn’t right. He was on the liquor. If he was following his rules, his code of ethics, it wouldn’t happen.
“But my question is — should they be operating here, in Lorengau town? Is it right for them to be running around here? They should be there — at Lombrum.”
Other islanders have raised concerns about the squad’s brutal tactics in quelling local protests about the impact of the resettlement program on the island, and warned that the influx of police and contractors has led to an increase in underage prostitution in Lorengau.
Father Justin Aminio, the Catholic Dean of Manus, said: “Those people who don’t have any chances of getting a job [at the detention centre] or even selling something, they sell themselves. A lot of girls who are still in school, that is how they get their money.”
The mobile squad was deployed to Manus in October 2012 after the Gillard government revived the use of the centre for offshore processing. The Lombrum centre operated under the Howard government’s “Pacific solution” from 2001 to 2008.
Its task, according to evidence to the Senate inquiry by the centre’s former security contractor G4S, was “to deal with unrest from local landowners demanding greater economic benefits from the centre for local people”. This included a blockade of the airport.
The 2012 disputes were resolved through negotiation, according to the G4S submission, but the mobile squad remained despite the misgivings of G4S, which raised concerns with the immigration department “about the suitability of the police mobile squad given its propensity to use disproportionate force to maintain order”.
The Senate committee report put much of the blame for the riots, which also injured 70 detainees, on the actions of the mobile squad on 17 February, when members “forcefully entered the centre … and put down the protests with extreme and excessive force”.
The report said “the department clearly failed to respond to the strong concerns raised by G4S” about the squad’s behaviour.
“Australia was effectively financing the PNG police mobile squad deployed at the centre, both prior to and during the events in which its members assaulted transferees and enabled other locals and service provider staff to enter the centre and do likewise,” the report said.
The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, who is due to visit Manus on Tuesday, did not respond to questions about whether Australia continued to underwrite the costs of the squad.
Reporting on this story was made possible by an independently awarded grant from GetUp’s Shipping News project
Originally published at www.theguardian.com on December 15, 2014.