Violence erupts at Australian detention centre

2015-11-09 11:55
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Sydney - The Australian government downplayed an outbreak of violence at its offshore detention centre on Christmas Island on Monday, even as frightened inmates told national media that rioters had overtaken parts of the facility.

The Immigration Department insisted that there was "no large-scale riot" but that the centre remained tense. Staff have been withdrawn for safety reasons.

The department said damage and "agitation" was being caused by detainees whose visas have been cancelled and are awaiting deportation.

"The protest action began when a small group of Iranian detainees took part in a peaceful protest following the escape from, and death outside the centre, of a detainee on Sunday," the department said in a statement on Monday afternoon.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told parliament there were "no suspicious circumstances" behind the death of the escaped inmate whose body was found Sunday.

Dutton said there were 203 people in the detention centre, one of three facilities, along with others on Manus Island and Nauru that hold migrants who failed to reach the Australian mainland.

Lockdown

Refugee advocates said about half of the inmates on Christmas Island are criminals expecting to be deported, while half are asylum seekers waiting to be accepted into Australia as refugees.

The government has not named the deceased man, but refugee advocates identified him as Fazal Chegeni, an Iranian Kurdish man in his 30s who arrived by boat five years ago.

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr said the deceased detainee had been accepted as a refugee after being tortured in Iran but had been in detention for years.

Inmates of the centre described hiding in fear while half the prison rioted after Chegeni's death, with scenes of chaos as buildings were set on fire and inmates destroyed office buildings.

Some detainees told the broadcaster ABC by phone that they had barricaded themselves into a building as they feared the rioting detainees could attack them.

"There are fires everywhere, they got into the medical, into the property, they raided the canteen, I mean it's out of control and we are fearing for our lives," a person called Matt told the ABC.

Detainee Matej Cuperka, waiting to be deported to Slovakia, told the brodcaster that the death of Chegeni was very suspicious and the rioters believe the prison guards "did something to him. I heard him screaming for help and the next thing I see they be bringing him in a body bag and then the whole place went into lockdown."

Cuperka said prison guards were driving around the outside of the camp but doing nothing to help those inside.

"They are just having a look through the window, but nobody is helping us," he said.

Read more on:    australia  |  security

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