Wed, Nov 11, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Australia quashes migrant center riot

‘UNDER FULL CONTROL’:Five detainees were injured in the unrest triggered by the unexplained death of an escaped asylum-seeker as authorities battled armed inmates


Australian police used tear gas and bean-bag rounds to put down a two-day riot yesterday at a migrant detention center that left parts of it severely damaged, after police reinforcements poured in to overpower inmates reportedly armed with machetes and molotov cocktails.

The additional police were sent to the remote Christmas Island facility after inmates started fires and apparently armed themselves in a protest triggered late on Sunday by the unexplained death of a detainee.

“The department can confirm all areas of the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Facility are under the full and effective control of service providers and department staff,” the Australian Department of Immigration said in a statement.

Five detainees were being treated for non-life threatening injuries or medical conditions, but it was not known whether these were sustained during the disturbance or yesterday’s operation, it said.

The department said the operation to regain control of the center, which is home to 203 asylum seekers and non-citizens, including hardened criminals, was largely achieved through negotiation. All detainees have been accounted for, it said.

“Some force was used with a core group of detainees who had built barricades and actively resisted attempts to secure compounds, including threatened use of weapons and improvised weapons,” it added. “A full survey of damage to the center is yet to be completed, but some common areas appear to be severely damaged.”

The disturbance at the Indian Ocean island center began after an escaped asylum-seeker, named in Australian media as Iranian-Kurdish Fazel Chegeni, was found dead.

Reports said he was found at the base of a cliff and Australian Minister of Immigration Peter Dutton said he was informed there were no suspicious circumstances, but the incident resulted in some detainees starting fires after guards fled.

Inmates have complained about their treatment at the facility on the Australian territory northwest of the mainland.

One inmate, New Zealander Tuk Whakatutu, earlier yesterday said the detainees had retreated into one of the detention center’s compounds after they were surrounded by police in riot gear.

Whakatutu said most inmates were hoping for a peaceful resolution, but a hardcore group of between 20 and 30 young men, mainly New Zealanders and Pacific islanders, were “tooled up” and determined to fight.

“I want nothing to do with it, but all the young fellas are gee-d up and all they want to do is go to war with them,” he told Radio New Zealand via telephone, with sirens blaring in the background. “They’ve got petrol bombs, they’ve got machetes, they’ve got chainsaws, iron bars, they’ve got all sorts.”

Whakatutu said police, whose numbers were bolstered by two plane loads of reinforcements from the mainland, had warned detainees they would be shot if officers encountered armed resistance.

“I don’t want to get shot for something I’m not involved in,” he said.

The unrest at Christmas Island came as the UN’ top human rights body took Australia to task over hardline policies on asylum seekers, whom it has pushed back by the boatload and incarcerated in offshore camps.

Under Canberra’s tough immigration policy, asylum seekers arriving by boat are processed on isolated Pacific islands — Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island — rather than the Australian mainland.

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