PNG police commander David Yapu has expressed concern that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has raised tensions on Manus Island with his comments about the behaviour of three refugees towards a young boy. Inspector Yapu has also rejected claims by Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg that police were investigating the incident involving the boy and had sought witness statements and CCTV footage.
Dutton contradicted for third time over Manus
“Ridiculous” is how a leading Manus Island MP described Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s analysis of the violent unrest at the detention centre.
He told Fairfax Media police were only investigating the behaviour of military personnel who embarked on a violent rampage at the Manus Island detention centre on Good Friday.
“This is not in regard to the boy issue. The statements and the footage were provided to police only on the incident that happened on April 14,” Inspector Yapu said.
While police and witnesses say the Good Friday violence followed an altercation between detainees and military personnel on a soccer field, Mr Dutton maintains the incident with the boy “caused a lot of angst” and “elevated the tempo on the ground”.
The provincial police commander said Mr Dutton’s comments about the boy were making it harder for police to restore calm to the area within a navy base that surrounds the detention centre, where inmates are permitted to leave during daylight hours..
“After the recent [Good Friday] incident, we are trying to monitor the situation and get back the confidence [of the community and detainees] and get back to normalcy at the centre,” he said.
“This kind of thing can trigger an escalation. This is my fear.”
Police commander David Yapu says only the behaviour of military personnel is being investogated. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Mr Dutton has refused to retreat from his claims that the incident in which a boy was taken into the centre by three refugees elevated the mood on Manus and served as a catalyst for the violence.
While Mr Dutton initially said local residents were angry over this incident and “another alleged sexual assault”, he has since spoken of “a series of events”.
“We are concerned about some allegations of sexual behaviour by the asylum seekers toward girls and women on Manus,” he said on Thursday.
The three refugees have filed a formal complaint over Mr Dutton’s comments, insisting they took a poor boy into the centre with the permission of a guard and gave him a bag of fruit after he approached them asking for money or food.
“I grew up in a country that had war and bombs and fighting and all of these things and I was raised without a father,” one of the refugees who took the boy into the centre told ABC radio on Friday.
“I experienced hunger, I experienced being thirsty, I experienced poverty, and I know how it feels for a child to be hungry, and when I see that I cannot just close my eyes and not help.”
Inspector Yapu has dismissed the incident with the boy as a “dead issue”, saying there has been no report to police or complaint from the boy’s parents.
“I really don’t understand why people are making an issue out of that. It’s a very small thing and they are making a great issue out of it.”
When the inspector’s comments were put to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, a spokesperson responded: “The department is aware that the incident in which a young child was found in the Manus regional processing centre has been referred to the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary.
“As such, it is not appropriate for us to comment further at this time. We refer you to the minister’s [Mr Dutton’s] public statements on this matter.”
Inspector Yapu said witness statements and footage gathered by police related only to the events of Good Friday. He has also defended the conduct of the asylum seekers and refugees who visit the province’s only town, East Lorengau.
“I’m on the ground,” he said. “I’ve been observing them. I’ve been monitoring them. They come freely to town, conduct their business, get on to the bus and go back to the centre. They’re safe.
“We have no personal grudges with them. The community don’t mind seeing them because they mind their own business.”