Manus Island Police Question Jurisdiction At Asylum Center

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MP seeks explanation over possible immunity from PNG laws

By Todagia Kelola

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan .3, 2013) – Manus Island police have raised concerns about whether Papua New Guinea laws apply to more than 100 foreign asylum seekers currently detained at the processing center on the island.

The members of the Royal PNG Constabulary raised this very important issue for the governments of PNG and Australia after an incident on Boxing Day, December 26, where an Iranian woman detainee at the center hit a G4S security guard on the head with an instrument, knocking him out unconscious for some minutes.

Police went in to the center but could not arrest the offender. Both PNG and Australian authorities have not allowed local police to go inside the perimeter of the processing center to conduct their normal police business.

Acting provincial police commander Inspector Eric Tawii raised this concern, saying under the MOU signed by Canberra and Waigani, the detainees are subjected to the laws of PNG, but the way things are going on there now, it appears that PNG laws don’t apply to them.

Local MP Ronny Knight is also not happy with the situation. He said there is no Australian Embassy representative on the island to explain to local police and provincial government authorities if the detainees, mostly from Iran and Sri Lanka, are immune to PNG laws.

Mr. Knight told the Post-Courier yesterday that he will get his provincial administration to summon the hierarchy of the center to explain.

Manus acting PPC Insp. Tawii is just as concerned as Mr. Knight and other local leaders.

"It’s very funny because whilst they (the detainees) are here (on Manus Island) they are subject to our Constitution. This means that we as the Police have powers to move in and arrest them anyone of them if we feel they have committed an offence, but right now we are not allowed to go in to the perimeters of the processing center," Mr. Tawii said.

He also questioned if they have a holding center or cell inside the processing center so that those who they think may be a threat to others can be detained and separated from the rest.

"If they think they will bring them in to the police station cell at Lorengau, I will be hesitant because we are not allowed to exercise our powers in the center," Mr. Tawii said.

Local MP Mr. Knight said he is not surprised by the issues raised by the local police.

He said he also went through the same experience once where he was not allowed in to the center.

If what the Police are saying is true then he will ask the Manus administration to summon the detention center hierarchy to explain this issue.

Mr. Knight is also not impressed with the services provided by G4S who have been contracted by the Australian Government to run the center.

Meanwhile an interview by ABC reporter Emily Bourke with Major Paul Moulds, the Director of Offshore Missions for the Salvation Army, reveals that the detainees are experiencing tension, frustration and uncertainty at the center. Major Moulds is the man charged with looking after the welfare of the detainees. He said there are some tensions within the group and some people aren’t coping well with the conditions.

"There are some people who are just so grateful to be in a place where they feel protected. They express their happiness and their thanks to us every day," he said.

"(But) there are others who are really struggling with the conditions here, the heat. And I guess there’s another group who feel quite unfairly treated. They can’t understand why they’ve been transferred here while some of the people they came on the same boat with are given bridging visas in the Australian community," Mr. Moulds said.

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