Papua New Guinea Defence Force personnel have fired shots into the Manus Island detention centre after a fight with asylum seekers, detainees say, prompting a call by Australian church leaders to evacuate the centre and close it down.
Detainees in the centre took cover after a large group of men stormed the gates of the centre about 6:30pm local time on Friday.
Refugees and asylum seekers spent Easter are afraid for their lives and are staying up all night guarding against further attacks, refugee advocates say.
The Department for Immigration and Border Protection confirmed one asylum seeker was hit by a rock and injured during the violence on Good Friday evening and said the matter was being investigated by Papua New Guinea authorities.
“Neither PNG or Australia can guarantee the safety of refugees and asylum seekers’ lives so long as they are kept as political hostages on Manus,” Refugee Action Collective spokesman Chris Breen said.
The detainees said Australian staff ran for cover after locking the gates.
Some sheltered inside the centre with asylum seekers while others were seen running for a boat moored nearby.
The shooting was reportedly in response to an earlier fight between asylum seekers and PNG Defence Force personnel from the adjacent Lombrum Naval Base.
Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection said in a statement one man had been injured by a rock thrown into the centre but other residents were safe.
“There are reports PNG military personnel discharged a weapon into the air during the incident,” the statement said.
“No-one was injured.”
But detainees sent photos from within the centre showing bullets and bullet damage to their accommodation.
They said at least 100 rounds were fired during the incident.
Church leaders have called on the federal government to evacuate Manus Island detention centre. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, representing several Christian church leaders, issued a statement on Saturday calling on the government to “act with compassion” and evacuate the camp.
“For the latest outbreak of violence to occur on Good Friday, an important part of the Christian calendar, there can be no ignoring the synergy of suffering,” the statement said.
On Friday evening a large group of local men reportedly tried to storm the detention centre and attack the asylum seekers inside.
Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia was on a bus being driven into the centre when he heard shots.
“It’s crazy, many people are in shock,” he said.
“The staff were running out of the compound like crazy, I think they were getting on a ship.”
An Iranian asylum seeker, who wished to remain anonymous, said Australian security staff were sheltering inside the complex with the detainees.
“Security staff were inside, they were hiding with us,” he said.
He said the attackers used high-powered weapons and left bullet holes in building and destroyed a light fitting.
“They were repeatedly shooting and a couple of rooms have been shot,” he said.
Asylum seekers inside the centre said they did not know if anyone had been shot.
Police wait for more information
Police on the island said reinforcements were ordered to the centre to patrol its perimeter and protect detainees, but they were not sure who the attackers were.
“We have police on the ground and they are trying to contain the situation,” Provincial Police Commander David Yapu said shortly after the reports of an incident emerged.
“There is a situation at the centre but I am still waiting for a report.”
The dangerous incident highlights the escalating tensions on the island, where more than 800 asylum seekers and refugees remain.
It is not the first time there has been high-level violence at the centre.
Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati was killed and dozens more people were injured when guards and local people responded to a protest in February 2014.