Asia-Pacific

Australian detainees charged over Villawood centre riot

Firefighters battle blaze at Villawood detention centre in Sydney, Australia - 21 April 2011
Image caption Detainees at Villawood have complained of lengthy waits to have their asylum claims heard

Seven detainees at an Australian immigration centre in Sydney have been charged in connection with a riot.

The men are accused of several offences including affray and destroying property at the Villawood detention facility last month.

The riot started as a rooftop protest by three detainees who had had their applications for asylum rejected and spread to involve 100 people.

A massive blaze was started which destroyed nine buildings.

The seven men were refused bail by a Sydney magistrate and ordered to remain in jail until they appear in court again next week.

Speaking outside court, their lawyer said the men are suffering severe mental health issues because they were in solitary confinement, ABC News reported.

Over-crowding

The Australia authorities have promised tough action against asylum seekers convicted of crimes while in detention.

In the wake of last month's riots, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen proposed a new law that would mean any asylum seeker found guilty of an offence would fail the character requirements for a permanent visa.

He said it was a "clear message" that recent rioting was unacceptable.

Critics blame the unrest at Australia's detention facilities on over-crowding and the length of time it takes for detainees to have their cases processed.

In recent months the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat - mainly from Iraq, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan - has increased. All those who arrive in Australia by boat are subject to mandatory detention.

The government has announced the provision of another 1,900 beds to accommodate the influx.

Meanwhile, high-level Australian immigration officials have been in Papua New Guinea this week for talks, ABC News reports.

Asked whether the mothballed Manus Island detention centre was discussed an unnamed source in PNG's immigration department told ABC "it may have been".

The Manus Island offshore asylum processing facility was part of the conservative John Howard government's so-called Pacific Solution that was closed down by former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

There have been calls for the government to clarify whether it intends to reopen the centre.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard had suggested opening a new centre in East Timor but there has been no apparent progress on this proposal since it was announced last year.

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