Tense stand-off ends at Christmas Island detention centre

The Christmas Island Detention Centre. Picture: Getty
The Christmas Island Detention Centre. Picture: Getty
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A standoff between protesting detainees and officials at a remote detention centre for asylum seekers in the Indian Ocean ended yesterday after Australian federal police arrived to stop more than a day of unrest that prompted guards to flee the facility and left parts of the compound badly damaged, officials said.

Most detainees co-operated with police negotiators at the detention centre on the Australian territory of Christmas Island, but officials used “some force” against a core group of protesters who had built barricades and had threatened to use weapons, the immigration department said. Immigration minister Peter Dutton said officers used tear gas to subdue the detainees, but declined to elaborate on what other tactics police used to quell the unrest.

Five detainees were being treated for injuries or medical conditions, though none was life-threatening, Mr Dutton saying the injuries amounted to minor lacerations.

Some areas of the facility appeared to be severely damaged, with Mr Dutton estimating the cost of repairs at around A$1 million (£460,000).

The unrest broke out on Monday following the death of an asylum seeker who escaped from the facility. The man’s body was found on Sunday at the bottom of a cliff. The cause of his death is under investigation.

Immigration officials say a small group of Iranian detainees staged a peaceful protest following the asylum seeker’s death, but others then began damaging property, lighting several fires and prompting guards to retreat.

The people leading the unrest were not believed to be asylum seekers, but detainees who are being held at the facility due to their visas being cancelled, immigration officials said.

Australia last year strengthened the power it has to cancel visas, making it mandatory to do so if a person has been sentenced to at least a year in jail. That has led to many New Zealanders with criminal records – some long-term residents of Australia – ending up in immigration detention while they await deportation. Some of them are appealing the government’s decision to revoke their visas.