Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan and members of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce have called for refugees on Manus Island to be transferred to Australia after shots were fired at the compound on Good Friday.
A large group of local men, including Papua New Guinea naval personnel, tried to break into the Manus Island facility on Friday night. This followed an alleged dispute outside the centre over a football field.
Live rounds were fired and some locals threw rocks at asylum seekers. According to Behrouz Boochani, an Iranian-born journalist detained on Manus Island, three asylum seekers were injured, along with some Australian officers.
In his Easter message, Mr McMillan stood alongside Syrian refugees in Bankstown and urged Australians of all faiths and none to rise above political debate and reach out to those in need.
“Easter is a time for new beginnings. It’s our chance as a nation to rise above the narrowness of our media and politics and defeat hatred and injustice with love and compassion,” Mr McMillan said.
“It is also an opportunity for our nation to compassionately reframe and renew policy approaches for those in need.”
It is not the first time tensions between locals and refugees on the island have escalated into violence. In 2014, Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed when guards and local people stormed the facility and attacked detainees.
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has long called for the end of offshore detention and said the latest outbreak of violence shows how precarious the detention centre is.
“It is with deep sadness that on the evening of Good Friday, marking the Cross of Christ, we hear of the violence and fear that has erupted on Manus Island, PNG, including gun shots being fired into the centre,” Taskforce chair, the Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt, said.
“We pause on this day, between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in the Christian tradition, to mourn the fear of those attacked and to hold the anger and hatred that came from the violence itself.
“The darkness of betrayal and abandonment that we are familiar with, in the Jesus story, is being felt keenly by those on Manus Island this weekend. As the Australian churches turn towards the theme of resurrection on Sunday, the context of our offshore processing can be ignored no more”.
The Manus Island detention centre is set to close on 31 October. Refugees who are not taken under the US deal will be resettled in Papua New Guinea.