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1 dead, dozens hurt after unrest at Australian center for asylum seekers

By Jethro Mullen and Mitra Mobasherat, CNN
February 18, 2014 -- Updated 0548 GMT (1348 HKT)
One person was killed and dozens injured after unrest broke out overnight at an Australian detention center for asylum seekers on a remote island in Papua New Guinea.
One person was killed and dozens injured after unrest broke out overnight at an Australian detention center for asylum seekers on a remote island in Papua New Guinea.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "This was a very dangerous situation," an Australian official says
  • People in the Australian detention center on Manus Island breached its fences
  • Human rights groups have criticized the offshore facilities for processing asylum seekers
  • Australian officials say they deter people from attempting the dangerous journey

(CNN) -- One person was killed and dozens injured after unrest broke out overnight at an Australian detention center for asylum seekers on a remote island in Papua New Guinea, authorities said Tuesday.

Detainees breached fences surrounding the facility on Manus Island, which lies several hundred kilometers northeast of mainland Papua New Guinea, the Australian government said.

"This was a very dangerous situation where people decided to protest in a very violent way and to take themselves outside the center and place themselves at great risk," said Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison.

Order has now been restored at the facility on Manus, a sparsely populated jungle island, he said.

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Australia operates controversial offshore centers for processing asylum seekers on Manus and the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.

Australian authorities say the far-flung detention centers are a way of deterring people from attempting the perilous sea journey to Australia, where immigration is a delicate political issue.

But conditions at the facilities have been criticized by human rights advocates, who have reported cases of self-harm, hunger strikes and suicide attempts.

Riots and protests have flared in the past among people held in the centers on Manus and Nauru, many of whom end up there after traveling from South Asia and the Middle East in efforts to reach Australia.

Rioting asylum seekers on Nauru burned down their shelters at the processing facility last year.

The unrest on Manus overnight followed "low-level demonstrations" at the center on the island, Morrison said.

"The vast majority of transferees in that facility did not participate in that protest last night, that disturbance," he said. "They were removed for their safety to the oval just down the road, and nonessential staff who were running the center were also evacuated prior to things escalating last night."

Most of those hurt in the riots have been treated locally, but two severely injured people are being transferred to Australia, Morrison said. One of the two suffered a gunshot wound to the buttock, he said.

A total of 77 people received medical treatment, and 13 of them had serious injuries, authorities said.

The person who was killed suffered a head injury outside the center and died on the way to a hospital, he said.

"The news of a death is a great tragedy," Morrison said, expressing his sympathies to the deceased's family and friends.

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