Manus detainee feared death during Good Friday attack

8:30 am on 19 April 2017

An asylum seeker detained by Australia on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island says he thought he was going die during the Good Friday attack on the detention centre by officers in the PNG navy.

Benham Satah.

Benham Satah. Photo: ABC: Eric Tlozek

The police in PNG say shots were fired by up to 15 naval personnel who were drunk.

An altercation between asylum seekers and naval officers at a football field sparked the attack in which bullets hit structures in the centre.

A Kurdish asylum seeker, Benham Satah, said guards fled when the shots rang out.

"There was nobody inside and they just left us alone. It was just us and we were thinking that we are really going to die," said Mr Satah.

"The moment that there was no officer and no staff inside, I was preparing myself for death."

The PNG police force said the soldiers went on a rampage through the centre, assaulting police, immigration officers and service providers as well as damaging vehicles.

Bullet holes in a fence at the Manus Island detention centre.

Bullet holes in a fence at the Manus Island detention centre. Photo: Refugee Action Coalition

It said a senior PNG immigration officer and an asylum seeker were injured, but the Kurdish journalist and Manus Island detainee, Behrouz Boochani, said three refugees were hurt by rocks.

The police commander on Manus Island, senior inspector David Yapu, said the naval officers had been drinking.

"Those that were involved in the incident were drunk. Their conduct is unethical and unacceptable and it really tarnished the reputation of a disciplined organisation," said Mr Yapu.

The member of parliament for Manus Island, Ronnie Knight, said while the naval officers were drunk their reaction was predictable.

"They were probably in their clubs having a recreational afternoon and when something like this happens then they came out drunk," said Mr Knight.

The letter signed by detainees to the Australian government.

The letter signed by detainees to the Australian government. Photo: Behrouz Boochani

"It happens, this is Papua New Guinea. I'm not saying anybody deserved it but you know that if you assault a uniformed officer in a naval base in any country in the world there's going to be repercussions."

Mr Satah, who witnessed the murder of detainee Reza Barati when a mob stormed the detention centre in 2014, said nobody at the centre was safe.

"It is not safe even for the citizens of Australia, the staff who work here. There is no safety and guarantee for anybody," said Mr Satah.

"After witnessing the murder of my room mate and testifying in court and being through lots of threats, personally I never feel safe here."

David Yapu said police had launched an investigation and the shooters would prosecuted.

He said police and naval commanders had a meeting following the Good Friday attack and that normalcy would return to the detention centre.

More than 600 detainees signed a letter to the Australian government, however, requesting they be moved to safety.

"We who have been detained on Manus Island for about four years against our will are requesting to be moved to some safe place," the letter said.

"We've been under military attack by machine guns and are worried about our safety in the centre. Our lives are in danger."

Mr Boochani said the attack proved the centre was not safe.

"A lot of Australian and New Zealand staff have been traumatised by the attack," he said.

"How does the Australian government claim the refugees are safe when they cannot even protect their own citizens?"

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection did not respond when asked if it had confidence in the safety of Australians and other foreign nationals who work at the centre.

Meanwhile, the vice president of the United States of America, Mike Pence, is due in Australia this week to discuss the resettlement of some of the Manus Island refugees.

Manus MP Ronnie Knight

Manus MP Ronnie Knight Photo: EMTV

No plan has been announced for refugees not taken in by the US, and Mr Knight said they could be left on Manus Island.

"The latest stupid, crazy, idiotic plan for them to move all the people at Lombrum to the East Lorengau Transit Centre and have them reside there and assimilate in the community will not work," he said.

"You're looking at insurrection, you're looking at a situation that will probably be worse than Bougainville and you're looking at a lot of dead asylum seekers and local people."

The governments of Australia and PNG plan to close the Manus Island detention centre when the company providing services there pulls out at the end of October.

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