UPDATE, Nov 2017: Manus Island Detention Centre will finally close, but that is not the end of the story for the men imprisoned there. I recommend reading Diary of disaster: the last days inside Manus Island detention centre, by Behrouz Boochani.
I feel it is appropriate to begin with a brief background and disclaimer:
I have been a crime novelist for over 15 years, and in that time I have had the honour of meeting and researching with international military personnel, FBI agents, homicide investigators, paramedics, undercover officers, survivors of crime, private investigators and more (and have myself earned my Certificate III in Private Investigation). Though I am a civilian, I have during this time often had access to non-civilian areas and have been made privy to highly sensitive information. It is a personal point of pride that I have, over many years, earned a considerable level of trust with many highly-trained professionals, and have been able to share through fiction the difficult stories of survivors and professionals with the tough job of protecting others in an imperfect and sometimes violent world. I have also been an unpaid advocate for child rights with UNICEF since 2007 and as of September 2013 my role has been expanded to UNICEF Australia National Ambassador for Child Survival. In this unpaid work I have met with experts, emergency chiefs, childcare and health workers and politicians in all of the major parties. I have been a dual Canadian/Australian citizen for 12 years. I am not, and never have been, a member of any political party.
In February of 2014 I was unexpectedly contacted by one of my many crime research contacts. He explained that he is currently stationed at Manus Island (something I had not been aware of), and that the information being made public about the violence that took place there was not correct. He explained that he was one of those who worked on the now deceased Mr Reza Barati, 23, trying to save his life. [Note: In the press the deceased has been referred to variously as Reza Barati and ‘Berati’, and age 23 or 24]. He confirmed that Mr Barati had suffered severe head injuries consistent with being beaten and ‘stomped on’.
My contact, who wished to remain anonymous because they sign confidentiality agreements in order to work at the facility, gave me a full run down on the events, before the details became public: the ’20+ shots fired’ (not ‘a couple’ as previously claimed). The spent shells found within the compound. The evacuation of staff (but not asylum seekers) before the violence the ended Mr Barati’s life. The fact that people from outside came in and attacked and opened fire on the people there. The fact that it happened deep within the compound where people were trapped, far from the entry gate, and not ‘outside the perimeter’ as previously claimed by the Immigration Minister, who has since conceded that the information he initially provided to the public was incorrect. All of the info provided to me by my brave contact has proved true so far. Every last detail. And though my contact is stationed there, and can’t speak publicly, he wanted me to know that many of the staff there are excellent, highly-qualified expat Australians doing the best they can in bad conditions, but that Manus Island detention centre should be shut down as unsafe.
I struggled with the ethics of coming forward with the information I had been given because I had to first be absolutely certain that the account could be fully corroborated, and because it is a highly sensitive topic, and clearly in the public, national interest. I came forward with the information I had in a public Facebook post on Monday around noon once I was able to fully verify all of the information I was given, something which took me several days, as a civilian. I felt a strong social responsibility to make the information I had public, and my source, who was not contactable for a time, (which caused me some considerable concern, it must be said) also made it clear that he wanted the truth to surface as a matter of conscience, and with the hope of change and ‘serious reform’. He came to me because he hoped that I could help, and he took some risk in doing so. I owed him for his bravery in coming to me, and trusting me to do something. The post was successful in disseminating the information my contact had entrusted me with sharing, and in truth became more of a focus than I initially anticipated. As more information has become available, and more sources have personally contacted me, I have decided to write this blog to collate it all in one place.
Again, since this initial information was given to me, and some time after my initial post, the account provided by my source has been fully corroborated publicly by multiple whistleblowers, on tape, shown on the ABC and later, SBS. The first ABC account aired 7 hrs after my initial post.
As explained in a blog by Leesa Little: ‘Corroborating all accounts from Tara Moss’ contact from earlier today, ABC’s 7:30 has reported an eye witness account of the Manus Island bloodshed. Compounding this injustice, the information comes after the ABC today revealed that former Sri Lankan military officer, Dinesh Perera is the operations manager of Manus Island detention centre. The witness has told 7:30 that guards freely allowed locals armed with makeshift weapons into the centre where they viciously attacked asylum seekers.’
A source at Manus Island who was present during the unrest described the following to me:
‘Problem is two-fold. The Australian Government appears to be deliberately trying to convince clients to return home through lack of action. G4S has zero jurisdiction outside the confines of the centre, meaning local authorities are free to act [as they choose]. This creates a lot of angst amongst the staff who I assure you are all here for the right reason and so do a great job in providing for the clients and welfare services. The other issue is the local G4S employees. They have basic training and [are] very undisciplined and unrestrained in conflict situations.’
‘We feel we cannot protect in this environment,’ he said.
‘There are currently 460 people crowded into a factory designed for 200 with up to 6 to a room the size of [an] average bathroom. Aircon is out and water is often off. Clients and staff are all suffering the physical realities of this place.’
‘Our empathy for them is palpable but we are not supported by policy. This place needs total reform or closing immediately,’ I was told.
Asher Wolf, who broke the story about former Sri Lankan military officer, Dinesh Perera, has also since revealed that Ex-Queensland Member for Chatsworth Steve Kilburn was working as a Safety and Security Officer for G4S at Manus Island during last week’s violent incident. Mr Kilburn explains:
‘I have resigned my position at G4S. I wouldn’t continue working at the Manus Island facility unless I was to believe in my heart there was a change of approach…. I would have to be confident there was a different approach to the Manus Island facility before I would work there again.’
‘An Australian G4S guard who wouldn’t appear on camera because of his contract with the company told the ABC the 23-year-old Iranian man who died, Reza Berati, was hit with lengths of wood, with metal poles taken from beds and had his head or neck stomped. But the ABC cannot verify the accuracy of this information.’
Further information has since been provided to me:
‘G4S were aware of tensions on compounds and intelligence reports indicated potential unrest for the period 16-18 Feb. DIBP [Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection ] were advised NOT to hold briefing and meeting with compound representatives [allegedly to advise them that they would not be resettled]. Despite several protests from centre managers on the day, the decision to hold said meeting was dictated from Canberra and was the catalyst for the violence.’
This account is consistent with the accounts of whistleblowers on the ABC 7:30 Report and the account of Liz Thompson, a migration agent who worked on the island and spoke to SBS. The deadly clashes on Manus Island allegedly flared after asylum seekers realised the Australian government had been ‘lying to them’ about plans to resettle them, and some asylum seekers decided to protest.
‘So what that means is… you’re never getting out of this camp, it’s indefinite detention,’ she told SBS’s Dateline program.
This claim is consistent with my contact’s assertion that there was a ‘lack of action’ on behalf of the government regarding processing.
The Sydney Morning Herald has also reported the following: ‘Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, visiting PNG, could not nominate a single country that has indicated it will take refugees from Manus, where around 1300 asylum seekers are being held. Not one refugee status determination has been completed since the first asylum seekers were sent there in November 2012.’
I have been told that after some asylum seekers began to protest, expatriate G4S guards tried to help those who ‘did not want to participate’, but those guards were ultimately evacuated as things spiralled out of control when locals entered the compound with weapons. A G4S guard told the ABC that it was PNG guards who let the armed locals into the compound. My contact wished to stress that many of the expat G4S guards stationed there are highly trained professionals and have a good relationship with the ‘clients’ in their care. He described the majority of the clients as ‘genuine refugees’ and said that many displayed ‘exemplary behaviour’ throughout. My source claims that expatriate G4S guards in no way took part in the violence, but tried to calm the situation and help clients remain safe before they were forcibly evacuated. Without wishing to editorialise, I will say that his descriptions gave me a strong impression of how outnumbered some expat professionals were as they tried to stop the violence, and protect ‘clients’ in serious danger.
I was also told of a client who had been ‘beaten up in the riots by G4S locals after being pulled out from under his bed’. He was described as being a diabetic who avoids physical confrontation due to the fact that it takes him weeks to heal.
Again, my source’s disturbing account also sheds further light on claims that emerged on ABC 7:30 Report. Here is an excerpt of the transcript:
LIAM COCHRANE: Some of the asylum seekers who tried to escape the violence by hiding in a gym were dragged out…and brutally assaulted.
WITNESS: When they went down, some guards ran – they came after they just kicked them again. The other guards come again. They all have their turn to fight them.
LIAM COCHRANE: The expatriate guards reportedly stayed out of the violence for the most part, trying to calm the situation and overseeing operations.
Azita Bokan, an interpreter working in the detention centre on Manus Island, spoke to the ABC’s Richard Glover, saying she witnessed seven G4S guards assault a detainee who was pushing an injured man in a wheelchair towards the medical compound.
My source’s claim that ’20 plus’ shots were fired is consistent with breaking reports that some injured asylum seekers presented with ‘gunshot wounds’. A video obtained by The Guardian shows staff trying to help injured asylum seekers. At one point a staff member shouts out the words ‘gunshot wound’ and a body is rushed through. A contractor also spoke to The Guardian, saying that late in evening on the night of the incident, injured asylum seekers were being brought to a makeshift hospital outside the accommodation block, driven in on a ute by G4S personnel:
‘They were just makeshift beds. Transferees were carried in on sheets. Blood everywhere, crying,’ the contractor told Guardian Australia. ‘There were 30 or 40 clients down there. We had gunshot wounds, some with head injuries.’
A contact at Manus Island informed me that he had found many spent shell casings inside one of the compounds, and they were not clustered. He provided an image (below) of one of the recovered casings.
‘Ejected rounds were not clustered as you would expect from multiple rounds being fired in the same direction but randomly scattered suggestive of indiscriminate shooting – certainly indicative of a weapon being fired in multiple directions,’ he told me.
Above: An image provided to me allegedly showing one of numerous 5.56 mm shell casings recovered from inside the Manus Island Mike compound where shooting took place. Note the dent below the shoulder on the far right showing ‘classic M16/AR extractor damage’.
A contractor who was present during the unrest told me:
‘PNG police entered the Mike compound and started shooting.’
Another guard spoke to the ABC, corroborating reports that expatriate G4S guards were told to evacuate and ‘hand over to the PNG police’ after locals came in through a back fence, and that PNG police, staff and guards were implicated in the violence: ‘Once they knocked people to the ground, they were stomping on their heads with their boots. A day later you could still see guards and staff and cleaners walking around with blood on their boots,’ the guard said. He also told the ABC: ‘The police went from room to room as well and held guns to people’s heads and said, ‘If you don’t give me your cigarettes, we’re going to shoot you.’
Previously unseen images have also been provided to me, several of which I have included in this blog. The first floor accommodation stairway in the image at very the top of this blog (the stairwell shown on the left side) is the location at which the deceased, Mr Barati and two other clients were found, all unconscious. I have been told that all three were ‘transported from the site on riot shields’. Another identical stairway at the rear of each block reportedly allows for easy access/egress and is the route allegedly taken by locals to gain access to clients in rooms once they had ‘breached the rear fence’.
I have also obtained independently verified testimony from Manus Island asylum seekers, recorded shortly after the unrest that left scores injured and left Mr Reza Barati dead. In the compelling testimony the asylum seekers, who cannot be named in this blog for reasons of safety, are explicitly asked by expat staff to explain their claim that PNG police opened fire on them in the Mike compound, rather than simply firing warning shots into the air as some had claimed.
‘Were the police shooting at people, or in the air?’ the men are asked.
‘No. Not in the air. Definitely’, comes the reply.
‘So how come only one person was hit?…Because I’d think that if the police were trying to shoot people with an automatic gun there would be many more that were shot.’
‘When they came in and shot the bullets, he was the first one, and everyone run,’ the man explains of the shot asylum seeker.
The men on the tape repeatedly point out that there are multiple bullet holes in the walls of the compound, proving that the shots were not aimed in the air. This is corroborated by clear images of bullet holes (and injuries) in a post by Asher Wolf: Photos of Injured Asylum Seekers at Manus Island Detention Centre. A video obtained by The Guardian also shows staff trying to help seriously wounded asylum seekers on the ground as one staff member shouts out the words ‘gunshot wound’ and a body is rushed through. In addition, I have been sent an image, posted below, which allegedly shows bullet damage inside the compound.
Some of the audio I have obtained was aired on ABC radio’s PM program, with PNG correspondent Liam Cochrane reporting. Here is a short example of the aired portion:
LIAM COCHRANE: An asylum seeker says he tried to hide in a room but was dragged outside to where G4S guards, police mobile squad officers, local residents and asylum seekers were clashing. He says he was stomped, kicked, punched and hit in the face with a heavy object.
ASYLUM SEEKER ‘A’: Please, please, please don’t kill me, don’t kill me, don’t kill me.
LIAM COCHRANE: The asylum seeker says a Papua New Guinean G4S guard intervened to get him away from the violence. That same night, nearby, 23-year-old Iranian Reza Berati was killed.
On March 24 a staff member at Manus told me that during the riots the majority of staff did not have radio communication and claimed this was a ‘safety issue for both staff and transferees that was raised daily for nearly a year. This prevented the basics of command and control throughout the MIRPC. No PPE was issued to staff – most used plastic chairs and bin lids for protection. There is clear evidence that this entire event could have been prevented with appropriate management.’
This claim is backed up by images I have had access to, showing staff and asylum seekers trying to shield themselves using plastic chairs during the riots.
As with others who have contacted me, this source stressed that staff ‘did a massive job, under-resourced, in difficult circumstances.’
A human rights inquiry in to the detention centre was underway but is now in doubt.
According to The Age: ‘The Abbott government was consulted and strongly backed the decision of the Papua New Guinea government to shut down a human rights inquiry into the Manus Island detention centre, Fairfax Media has been told.’
PNG’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Rimbink Pato, reportedly told Fairfax Media that it was a ‘a joint effort’ and the government was moving on the basis that Justice David Cannings, a former human rights lawyer, was presiding over an inquiry he had himself initiated, and that the inquiry was calling experts without complying with ‘proper processes under PNG law’, The Age reported.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald’s Chief political correspondent Mark Kenny: Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison ‘appeared to lay the blame for the violence at the detention centre on rampaging asylum seekers for pushing through the perimeter fence. Mr Morrison revealed he was told later that day that he had been given unreliable information. He said his initial claim that the death and much of the violence had taken place outside the centre was not correct…has refused to say why he waited to correct the record until Saturday night.’ In the same publication, Former Immigration Minister for the Howard Government Amanda Vanstone wrote of the immigration minister: ‘Clearly on the same day he made a number of references to updating information and specifically clarified that there were now conflicting reports as to the location of the deceased at the time of his injury.’
Further updates will be found here and on my journalism page.
It is not my job to speculate on the political implications of this information and I will not be doing interviews on this matter.
I would like to thank everyone who has left kind messages of support after the Manus Island revelations. And to those who have written comments about how I ‘made up’ an ‘imaginary’ anonymous contact to ‘rile people up’ – perhaps consider for a moment the incredible coincidence that I would somehow just happen to have correct information about what happened that night, before it was made public by independent whistleblowers who fully corroborated the account, and before many of the details were acknowledged by the Immigration Minister himself. I have a solid imagination, but I am not clairvoyant.
Finally, I would like to thank everyone who has been brave enough to come forward, and I would also like to thank all those who worked to try to prevent this violence and the unnecessary death of Mr Barati, who was in Australia’s care.
I have obtained more images from my contacts at Manus Island, showing post-riot damage and splatters of blood on the lower level of the Mike compound:
‘UN report to state Australia is in breach of international torture convention’, Report on UN and Manus, March 9, 2015.
‘The Manus Solution’ – Four Corner report, ABC, April 2014.
‘Kevin Rudd unveils ‘hard-line’ PNG solution for asylum-seekers’, July 2013, The Australian.
‘UN condemns ‘Australia’s Guantanamo Bay”, ABC 7:30 Report.
‘Manus Island: How information is kept ‘under control’, SMH.
‘Asylum seeker safety on Manus Island’, The Wire.
‘We are in danger. Somebody please help us’, The Guardian.
Leaked UNHCR report: Manus Island world’s worst, The Saturday Paper, Oct 2016.