Monday 19 August 2019

Asylum seeker's death sparks 'major' riot at Australian detention centre

The entrance sign of Christmas Island immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, Australia credit: Getty Images
The entrance sign of Christmas Island immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, Australia credit: Getty Images Newsdesk Newsdesk

A major riot has broken out at a remote Australian detention centre for asylum seekers in the Indian Ocean.

Australia's immigration department said there was a "major disturbance" at the detention centre on the country's territory of Christmas Island, with reports of damage but no injuries.

Fences at the facility on the remote outpost were torn down and fires were lit, forcing guards to abandon the facility and allowing access to vulnerable inmates by other detainees, according to reports.

Christmas Island segregates detainees seeking political asylum, many of whom have fled from war-torn regions in the Middle East and Asia, from foreigners facing deportation for a variety of crimes.

Refugee advocates said the riot broke out following the death of an asylum seeker who escaped from the centre on Saturday.

The man's body was found the following day at the bottom of cliffs on the island. His death is being investigated.

The department denied there was a "large scale" riot, but said staff had withdrawn from the compound for safety reasons.

The problem began when a small group of Iranian detainees staged a peaceful protest following the asylum seeker's death.

Other detainees then began damaging the property, starting several small fires, according to the department.

Australia has taken a tough stance in recent years on asylum seekers who try to reach its shores illegally.

Asylum seekers who pay people smugglers to take them in rickety boats to Australia from Indonesia are detained on Christmas Island and on the impoverished Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

However, the group leading the unrest appears to be detainees being held there because their visas were cancelled, rather than asylum seekers, the Australian department of immigration said.

Many held on Christmas Island are from neighbouring New Zealand and are awaiting appeals after having been convicted of crimes.

Some have lived in Australia for decades and the number of such deportations is a sore spot in the relationship.

New Zealand MP Kelvin Davis, who recently visited the island, said a New Zealander held there told him that detainees had taken over the centre.

"They have put holes in the walls, so even if they are rounded up and put back in the cells they actually can't be locked up," Mr Davis told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Last year Australia strengthened its power to cancel visas, making it mandatory if a person had been sentenced to at least a year in jail.

That has led to an influx of New Zealanders with criminal records - some of whom were long-term residents of Australia - ending up in immigration detention while they await deportation. Some are appealing against the government's decision to revoke their visas.

New Zealand prime minister John Key said he was told there may be a few New Zealanders involved in the unrest and if so, they were doing nothing to help their case to stay in Australia.

"The risk is that they actually damage their own appeals because they undertake other criminal activity," he said.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News