Asylum seekers flee Australian detention camp

 

Asylum seeker supporters have used a car to drag down fences at Australia's most notorious detention centre, allowing 34 people to escape.

Australian Immigration Minister Mr Philip Ruddock said 15 asylum seekers were involved in a carefully-planned mass break-out just from the Woomera detention centre, a former missile testing base in central Australia.

The other 19 took advantage of the confusion and fled into the desert.

"This is a deliberate, organised break-out by people who have been in contact with detainees," Mr Ruddock told Melbourne radio station 3AW.

Mr Ruddock said members of an asylum seeker support group drove a car up to one of the razor-wire topped fences of the camp where they pulled down part of the fence and ferried the asylum seekers away.

Mr Ruddock said five of the detainees have been recaptured by police and another 10 have been spotted and are expected to be recaptured by police scouring the surrounding area.

The detention centre at Woomera is one of five camps where hundreds of mostly Middle Eastern boat people are held while authorities consider their requests for asylum. The policy has been criticised by human rights activists but is popular with most Australians.

Woomera has been the most troublesome of the camps and has been plagued by riots, hunger strikes, arson and self-mutilation by inmates.

About 160 of the 200 Woomera detainees there had been on a four-day hunger strike, it was not clear about what they were protesting.

Earlier this year 47 inmates escaped when hundreds of people protesting against Australia's policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers tore down part of the fence. Most of them were later recaptured.

PA