Revolt at Christmas Island asylum seeker ‘jail’

The immigration department confirmed there was a 'major disturbance' at the detention centre. Picture: Getty
The immigration department confirmed there was a 'major disturbance' at the detention centre. Picture: Getty
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Australian officials battled to contain unrest at a remote detention centre for asylum seekers in the Indian Ocean, with protesters lighting a series of small fires and guards withdrawing from the compound.

The immigration department confirmed there was a “major disturbance” at the detention centre on the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said one detainee caught up in the fray had requested medical assistance for an unspecified reason, but no serious injuries had been reported. Refugee advocates say riots broke out following the death of an asylum seeker who escaped from the facility on Saturday. The man’s body was found the following day at the bottom of a cliff on the island. The cause of his death is under investigation.

The immigration department denied there was a large-scale riot, but said staff had withdrawn from the facility for safety reasons.

The department said the problem began when a small group of Iranian detainees staged a peaceful protest following the asylum seeker’s death. Other detainees then began damaging the property, including lighting several small fires.

Officials were negotiating with the detainees in a bid to end the stand-off, Dutton told reporters. He declined to elaborate on what the detainees wanted, and said he didn’t know how many people were involved in the protest.

The group leading the unrest appeared to be detainees who are being held at the facility due to their visas being cancelled - not asylum seekers, 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 a large number of New Zealanders with criminal records - some of whom were 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.