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'Riots' erupt at Australian immigration centre after detainee death

Police on standby during a rally in Sydney in support of refugees and asylum seekers on October 11, 2015.
Police on standby during a rally in Sydney in support of refugees and asylum seekers on October 11, 2015. AFP file photo

Australian officials were working on Monday to contain what refugee advocates described as riots at a remote detention centre for asylum seekers in the Indian Ocean, following the death of a detainee who escaped.

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The immigration department confirmed there was a “major disturbance” at the immigration detention center on the Australian territory of Christmas Island. The department said in a statement that there were reports of damage but no injuries.

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 cliffs 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The immigration department denied there was a “large scale ‘riot’,” but said staff had withdrawn from the compound for safety reasons.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.

The group leading the unrest appeared to be detainees who are being held at the facility due to their visas being canceled   not asylum seekers, the department said.

New Zealand lawmaker Kelvin Davis, who recently visited the island, said a New Zealander held at the facility told him that detainees had taken over the center.

“They have put holes in the walls, so even if they are rounded up and put back in the cells they actually can’t be locked up,” Davis told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

The immigration department said the perimeter was secure.

Australia has taken a tough stance in recent years on asylum seekers who try to reach its shores illegally. Asylum seekers who pay people smugglers to take them in rickety boats to Australia from Indonesia are detained on Christmas Island and on the impoverished Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

(AP)

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