Riots have reportedly broken out in one of Australia's remote detention centers for asylum-seekers. New Zealanders with revoked visas are said to have joined forces with refugees.
Fences were torn down and fires broke out at Australia's Christmas Island detention center early Monday. Following the death of an asylum seeker at the facility, rioters allegedly took control of the compound as security guards fled.
Canberra said it was not aware of injuries on the remote Indian Ocean territory, but that it could "confirm a disturbance at Christmas Island Immigration Detention Center," according to a statement.
"The department and its service providers are working together to resolve the situation," the statement continued, without elaborating further.
One detainee told Radio New Zealand (RNZ) that the catalyst for the riot was the discovery on Sunday of the body of an Iranian Kurdish asylum seeker, identified by the Australian media as Fazel Chegeni.
"We're sick of it. We see it all the time: people trying to hurt themselves, kill themselves," the detainee told RNZ. He asked to remain anonymous, but spoke with a New Zealand accent. RNZ also reported that the rioters had armed themselves with bats and poles to resist attempts by guards to retake the compound.
New Zealanders see visas revoked
A large number of Kiwis have been deported to the island following a recent decision from Canberra to revoke the visas of people with criminal convictions. The move garnered significant criticism, including from New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who pointed out that many of the deportations were being carried out over minor crimes by people who had lived in Australia for decades, often with little or no tie to their homeland.
Another New Zealand detainee, Lester Hohua, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the convicted criminals with canceled visas had joined with the asylum seekers to protest their treatment. "It all went haywire," said Hohua.
Kiwi lawmaker Kelvin Davis, who visited the center last month, said he was told that the riot began after a detainee who asked guards about the death of Fazel Chegeni was punched in the face.
Under Australia's immigration policy, asylum seekers arriving by boat have their applications processed on the country's remote island territories rather than the mainland. The refugees have been increasingly joined by Australia-based foreign nationals who have had their visas revoked.
es/bk (AP, AFP, Reuters)