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Australia to send asylum seeker body home to Iran

February 21, 2014

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The body of an asylum seeker who was killed in a violent breakout from an Australian-run detention camp on Papua New Guinea will be repatriated to his family in Iran, an Australian official said on Friday.

Reza Barati, 23, sustained fatal head injuries Monday night as hundreds of asylum seekers pushed down a perimeter fence to escape the camp on Manus Island, off the Papua New Guinea coast.

Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would repatriate Barati’s body to Iran at his family’s request, after an autopsy in Papua New Guinea. The Australian Embassy in Port Moresby conveyed the deep sympathies of the Australian government.

Papua New Guinea is one of two South Pacific nations where Australia operates camps to house thousands of asylum seekers, mostly from the Middle East, who have tried to enter the country illegally after dangerous sea journeys from Indonesia. Australia intercepts them at sea and sends them to camps at Manus Island or the tiny Pacific atoll nation of Nauru while their refugee claims are evaluated for resettlement in those countries.

Australia refuses to resettle any refugee who attempts to arrive on its shores by boat, leaving such asylum seekers increasing frustrated and uncertain about their future.

The unrest on Manus has heightened pressure on Canberra to close these camps, but the government was holding firm, saying it is an effective deterrent against asylum seekers.

News Corp. newspapers in Australia reported Friday that Barati might have been killed by out-of-control guards who stomped his head as he lay defenseless on the ground. The newspapers cited an unnamed Australian guard at the camp accusing locally hired guards of attacking Barati in a frenzy.

Morrison said he would not speculate on such media reports. Oapua New Guinea had mounted a police investigation, while Australian officials were separately reviewing what had happened, including the role of guards, Morrison said.

Morrison on Friday released Barati’s name, but few other details about him. Morrison declined to say why Barati had fled Iran or whether his refugee claim had been assessed.

The camp holds around 1,300 asylum seekers, all men from countries including Afghanistan, Sudan’s Darfur region, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria.

All the escaped asylum seekers were now either in hospitals or back in the camp, Morrison said.

Update hourly