Riots break out at Australia detention centre
Unrest at immigration detention centre follows death of an inmate who had escaped
Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre. Photograph: Andrea Hayward/EPA
Australian opposition politicians on Monday demanded that the government disclose the extent of destruction caused by ongoing riots at a controversial immigration detention centre following the death of an asylum seeker.
Fences at the facility on the remote Australian outpost of Christmas Island 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.
Australian immigration ninister Peter Dutton told parliament that the unrest began around 11pm local time Sunday following the death of an inmate who had escaped on Saturday.
The body of the man, identified by refugee advocates as an Iranian Kurdish asylum seeker, was discovered by search and rescue teams on Sunday at the bottom of cliffs away from the centre, the Immigration Department said.
“If people have caused damage to Commonwealth property, they will be investigated and prosecuted in relation to those matters,” Dutton told parliament.
But opposition Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who said that the centre was “in meltdown”, demanded that the government disclose the extent of the unrest and exercise restraint in responding to it.
“I have spoken with people who are locked up in the centre and they say that there is widespread unrest and fires across the facility,” she said in a statement.
Asylum seekers are a hot political issue in Australia. Successive governments have vowed to stop them reaching the mainland, sending those intercepted on unsafe boats to camps on Christmas Island, and more recently Manus island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific.
Many detainees 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 between the two countries.
New Zealand prime minister John Key urged his citizens not to take part in any rioting, as it may further damage their legal standing.
“My concerns would be that, like a riot at any corrections facility, there can and may well be consequences as a result of that,” Mr Key told reporters.
Meanwhile Australia was criticised on Monday at the United Nations for its offshore processing of asylum claims, detention of child migrants and reports it had sent back legitimate refugees.
Sterilisations of the disabled and discrimination against indigenous people were other concerns raised during the UN Human Rights Council examination of Australia‘s record, part of a regular review of each UN member held every four years.
Successive Australian governments have vowed to stop asylum seekers from reaching the mainland, sending those intercepted on unsafe boats to camps on Christmas Island, and more recently Manus island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific.
“Irregular migration flows pose particular challenges to a managed and equitable system of migration,” John Reid of the attorney-general department, who led Australia’s delegation, told the Geneva forum.
“Strong border protection measures” had helped maintain the government‘s significant humanitarian resettlement and assistance programmes, he said, citing its offer to resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Some 2,044 people are in immigration detention, including 113 children, “down from a peak of 2,000 (children) in middle of 2013”, said Steve McGlynn of the immigration and border protection department. A further 30,000 migrants were “approved to live in the community”.
Britain, Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Switzerland and the United States were among dozens of delegations criticising Australia’s asylum policies.
Denmark’s delegation voiced concern at “the high percentage of Aboriginal children between the ages of 10 to 12 years held in detention centres”.
Canada urged Australia to “prohibit the non-therapeutic sterilisation of any individual who is not mentally competent to consent” while Brazil decried “the poor living conditions of indigenous peoples and their over-representation in the criminal justice system”.
“We acknowledge and recognise challenges remaining for Australia that have been flagged, including in relation to indigenous issues, migration issues, the rights of people with disability as well as human trafficking issues,” said Mr Reid said at the end of the debate.