SYDNEY (Reuters) - A number of people seeking asylum in Australia have been injured and some arrested after an overnight “disturbance” at a processing center in nearby Papua New Guinea, Australia’s immigration minister said on Monday.
Manus Island in impoverished Papua New Guinea hosts a detention center for would-be refugees who have been sent there after trying to get to Australia, often in unsafe boats after paying people smugglers in Indonesia.
Papua New Guinea police had arrested “a number of transferees” after the incident, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.
“Service providers have also reported a number of transferees have received medical attention and that there has been some minor property damage to the center,” he said.
Media outlet PNG Edge, quoting an unidentified security guard at the camp, said about 1,000 male asylum seekers had rushed the main gate, with a number of detainees breaking out in the melee before being rounded up.
Australia’s conservative government routinely gives scant information about incidents involved in its controversial immigration policies.
The number of refugees reaching Australia pales in comparison with other countries but it is a polarizing political issue that has stoked tension with Indonesia.
Canberra’s tough stance on asylum seekers, including offshore processing and a blanket ban on people arriving by boat ever settling in Australia, has been criticized by the United Nations and other groups as illegal and inhumane.
A riot at Australia’s other offshore processing center on the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru last year caused extensive damage and led to the arrest of some 150 asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was impossible not to feel sorry for people who wanted to escape to a better life, but Australia could not allow them to take advantage of their generosity.
“If you don’t want to be in immigration detention, don’t come illegally to Australia,” Abbott told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio on Monday.
Australia’s crackdown on asylum seekers includes turning boats back at sea. The U.N. refugee agency has asked for information from the government, warning that Australia could be breaking international law if it is forcing boats back to Indonesia without proper regard for safety.
Many of those trying to reach Australia have fled conflicts in Afghanistan, Darfur, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria.
Reporting by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait