09/21/2015, 00.00
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Manus Island riot: refugee murder trial to begin

On 17 February 2014, clashes between police and migrants led to the killing of a 23-year-old man. A member of the Salvation Army (which ran the camp) and a guard stand accused. For four years, about 1,000 migrants have been held on the island, waiting to learn their fate. "I hope the trial will address the problem,” says PIME missionary in Papua New Guinea.

Port Moresby (AsiaNews) – Two men face trial over the death of a detainee at the Manus Island detention centre on Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Salvation Army worker Joshua Kaluvia and camp guard Louie Efi have been charged with the death of Reza Barati, an Iranian migrant aged 23 who was killed in the Manus Regional Processing Centre on 17 February 2014.

Both defendants are Papuan nationals. At the time of incident, the Army Salvation ran the detention facility.

Fr Giorgio Licini, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Papua New Guinea, hopes that "this trial will address the problem of the people held on the island. Their situation has not changed for far too long.”

For four years, about 1,000 refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia have been held in poor conditions on Manus Island, whom neither Australia nor Papua New Guinea want.

In February 2014, migrants rioted following the news that they had been denied transfer to Australia, which resulted in the killing of Reza Barati.

Mr Kaluvia told media he and Mr Efi would be convicted "so that nobody else, no Australians or New Zealanders who are responsible, have to face justice".

Speaking about the conditions at the detention centre, Fr Licini said that it is difficult to know how things are inside because "the camp is off limits and there is very little news coming from within. The Australians [who run the camp] keep everything tight."

"When the murder occurred, the Salvation Army had a contract to run the camp,” he explained. “After the incident, they were replaced by a security firm.”

“If someone was arrested it is because inmates and guards said something. Hopefully, a public trial will put the spotlight on the situation, which should be solved sooner or later.”

"Refugees have been kept there for four years because Australia wants to discourage new arrivals,” Fr Licini said. “It is as if it is saying: ‘Don’t come because we will send you to Papua New Guinea anyway.”

“But this is an oddball idea because Papua is not a developed country and is not equipped to accommodate all these people. Because it is not just the thousand or so held in Manus, but also their families, for a total of 3-4,000 people. There is no work in Papua New Guinea, which is not an industrialised country like Australia."

In recent years, thousands of refugees have landed on Christmas Island seeking asylum. The latter is a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean that is closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland.

However, Australian authorities send them to Papua New Guinea, and especially Nauru, where the situation “is even worse than in Manus,” Fr Licini said. And “now there are more arrivals.”

“Still, Australian policy nipped human trafficking in the bud, so I would not completely condemn Australia.” In fact, “the country accepts 30,000 UN refugees each year,” the missionary said.

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