Un­rest erupts at Aus­tralia’s Xmas Is­land mi­grant cen­ter

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

SYD­NEY: De­tainees set build­ings alight and armed them­selves with base­ball bats in a riot at an Aus­tralian im­mi­gra­tion fa­cil­ity on Christ­mas Is­land, peo­ple at the cen­ter said yes­ter­day, with of­fi­cials ad­mit­ting the sit­u­a­tion was out of con­trol. The dis­tur­bance at the In­dian Ocean is­land cen­ter comes af­ter the un­ex­plained death of an es­caped asy­lum-seeker.

De­tainees have com­plained about their treat­ment at the fa­cil­ity, which cur­rently houses 203 men, among them asy­lum­seek­ers await­ing pro­cess­ing and non-cit­i­zens be­ing de­ported be­cause they have crim­i­nal con­vic­tions.

“Or­der or con­trol hasn’t been re­gained within the cen­ter,” Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Pe­ter Dut­ton told Sky News. He added that no in­juries had been listed, no dam­age been done to the perime­ter fence and noone had since tried to es­cape.

The Depart­ment for Im­mi­gra­tion and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion de­scribed the in­ci­dent as a “ma­jor dis­tur­bance” but de­nied there was a large scale riot. “There is cur­rently no large scale ‘riot’ in­volv­ing the ma­jor­ity of the cen­ter’s pop­u­la­tion... but the cen­ter re­mains tense and staff have been with­drawn from com­pounds for safety rea­sons,” a depart­ment state­ment said.

“A group of de­tainees, be­lieved to be non-cit­i­zens whose visas have been can­celled un­der manda­tory can­cel­la­tion pro­vi­sions, con­tinue to ag­i­tate and cause dam­age to the fa­cil­ity.”

The depart­ment de­clined to spec­ify the num­ber of staff that had been evac­u­ated when con­tacted by AFP. The trou­ble fol­lowed a peace­ful protest by de­tainees on Sun­day af­ter the dis­cov­ery of the body of an Ira­nian Kur­dish asy­lum-seeker, named by Aus­tralian me­dia as Fazel Che­geni, who had es­caped.

Po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the cause of death but Dut­ton, who was un­able to con­firm re­ports that the body was found at the base of a cliff, said he had been ad­vised there were no sus­pi­cious cir­cum­stances.

The depart­ment said other de­tainees “took ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion to en­gage in prop­erty dam­age and gen­eral un­rest”. “A num­ber of small fires have been lit within the cen­tre,” it said. “There is be­lieved to be dam­age to med­i­cal, ed­u­ca­tional and sport­ing fa­cil­i­ties but a full as­sess­ment is yet to be con­ducted.”

‘It all went hay­wire’

A de­tainee told Ra­dio New Zealand (RNZ) some in­mates had armed them­selves to re­sist any at­tempt to re-take the fa­cil­ity. “We’re sick of it. We see it all the time, peo­ple try­ing to hurt them­selves, kill them­selves,” the man, who spoke with a New Zealand ac­cent and did not give his name, told RNZ by tele­phone. “We have a feel­ing that they’re go­ing to send a lot of guards in but a lot of de­tainees have armed up with base­ball bats and poles just in case,” he said. Un­der Aus­tralia’s hard­line im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy, asy­lum-seek­ers ar­riv­ing by boat are pro­cessed on iso­lated is­lands, rather than the main­land.

As well as asy­lum seek­ers, Christ­mas Is­land’s fa­cil­ity has in­creas­ingly been used to hold non-cit­i­zens await­ing de­por­ta­tion, in­clud­ing crim­i­nals af­ter Can­berra be­gan can­celling visas of those with crim­i­nal records. In par­tic­u­lar there has been an in­flux of Aus­tralian-based New Zealan­ders.

Crit­ics of the pol­icy in­clude New Zealand Prime Min­is­ter John Key, point­ing out that many are be­ing de­ported over mi­nor crimes com­mit­ted years ago and have no ties to their home­land af­ter decades liv­ing in Aus­tralia. Kiwi de­tainee Lester Ho­hua said con­victed crim­i­nals with can­celled visas joined forces with asy­lum­seek­ers.

“It all went hay­wire,” he told the Aus­tralian Broadcasting Cor­po­ra­tion. New Zealand op­po­si­tion law­maker Kelvin Davis, who last month vis­ited the cen­tre, said he had been told the dis­tur­bance be­gan af­ter a de­tainee who ques­tioned guards about the death was punched in the face.

“Things aren’t good... I think it’s the calm be­fore the storm... one guy I spoke to said they’re afraid, they’re scared they’re go­ing to be shot,” he told TV3. —AFP

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