Australia

Christmas Island: Tear gas used to end migrant centre unrest

A general view of asylum seekers and facilities at Christmas Island Detention Centre, on July 26, 2013 on Christmas Island. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Five detainees were injured but the circumstances are unclear

Australia's immigration minister has said police used tear gas to bring an end to unrest at the Christmas Island migrant detention centre.

Peter Dutton said five detainees were injured, but could not confirm reports that police had used rubber bullets.

The immigration department said all areas of the facility were back under "full and effective control" after police used "some force".

The disturbances began on Sunday after an escaped detainee was found dead.

Inmates had started fires inside the buildings and barricaded themselves inside a compound with weapons.

Christmas Island is a remote outpost located 2,650km (1,650 miles) north-west of Perth and 380km south of Java in Indonesia.

It is part of Australia's network of offshore processing centres for irregular migrants who arrive by boat, but also houses foreigners facing deportation after committing crimes in Australia.

'Group of criminals'

Police reinforcements arrived at the detention centre early on Tuesday to restore order.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Peter Dutton said some of the detainees had refused to comply with orders from the police

The immigration department said "some force" had been used against "a core group of detainees who had built barricades and actively resisted attempts to secure compounds, including threatened use of weapons and improvised weapons".

Some common areas appear to be severely damaged, it added, but said order was restored "largely through negotiation and co-operation with detainees".

Five detainees were being treated for non life-threatening injuries or medical conditions.

Mr Dutton later said the detainees were injured "as a result of their interaction with the police and their refusal to comply with the directions provided by the Australian Federal Police".

He blamed the unrest on "a hardened criminal population that occupies the immigration detention centre".

It is difficult to verify information about what happens on Christmas Island as the media are generally barred from reporting there.

Inmate's death 'sparked riot'

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A report on Fazel Chegeni's death is being prepared for the coroner

The unrest started late on Sunday, when a group of Iranian inmates staged a protest about the death of an Iranian Kurd, Fazel Chegeni.

Mr Chegeni had broken out of the facility on Saturday. His body was found the next day at the bottom of a cliff.


The Christmas Island centre

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Australia's Department of Immigration has confirmed that inmates lit fires around the Christmas Island facility (file picture)
  • The current detention centre at North West Point on Christmas Island opened in 2006.
  • The government outsources running of the centre to private contractor Serco.
  • All 203 detainees are men - around 40 are New Zealanders awaiting deportation after committing crimes and losing their visas.
  • Human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs voiced "grave concerns" for asylum seekers after visit the island in July 2014.
  • All children were transferred off Christmas Island by the end of December 2014.

Australia asylum: Why is it controversial?


Controversial policy

Under controversial policies, Australia sends all intercepted asylum seekers to Christmas Island as well as Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific.

The government says the journey the asylum seekers make by sea to reach Australia is dangerous and controlled by criminal gangs and they have a duty to stop it. Critics say opposition to granting asylum is often racially motivated and is damaging Australia's reputation.

The policy was branded a "disaster" by Human Rights Watch's Australia director in July. The group also raised concern over conditions at the Manus camp.

Last February, an Iranian man was killed during a riot at the camp on Manus. The trial of a Salvation Army worker and a camp guard accused over his murder restarts later this month.

Australia is this week facing renewed criticism from the United Nations over the policies, with the US, Britain and others using a UN forum to say it should stop turning back boats and close the offshore centres.

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