Australian authorities forcibly ended a two-day riot Tuesday at a migrant detention centre that left parts of it severely damaged, after police reinforcements poured in to overpower inmates reportedly armed with machetes and petrol bombs.
The additional police were sent to the remote Christmas Island facility after inmates started fires and apparently armed themselves in a protest triggered late Sunday by the unexplained death of a detainee.
“The department can confirm all areas of the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Facility are under the full and effective control of service providers and department staff,” the Immigration Department said in a statement.
Five detainees were being treated for non-life threatening injuries or medical conditions but it was not known whether these were sustained during the disturbance or Tuesday’s operation, it said.
The department said the operation to regain control of the centre, which is home to 203 asylum-seekers and non-citizens including hardened criminals, was largely achieved through negotiation. All detainees have been accounted for, it said.
“Some force was used with a core group of detainees who had built barricades and actively resisted attempts to secure compounds, including threatened use of weapons and improvised weapons,” it added.
“A full survey of damage to the centre is yet to be completed, but some common areas appear to be severely damaged.”
The disturbance at the Indian Ocean island centre began after an escaped asylum-seeker, named in Australian media as Iranian-Kurdish Fazel Chegeni, was found dead.
Reports said he was found at the base of a cliff and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said he was informed there were no suspicious circumstances, but the incident resulted in some detainees starting fires after guards fled.
Inmates have complained about their treatment at the facility on the Australian territory northwest of the mainland.
– ‘Petrol bombs, machetes and chainsaws’ –
One inmate, New Zealander Tuk Whakatutu, said earlier Tuesday the detainees had retreated into one of the detention centre’s compounds after they were surrounded by police in riot gear.
Whakatutu said most inmates were hoping for a peaceful resolution but a hard-core group of 20 to 30 young men, mainly New Zealanders and Pacific islanders, were “tooled up” and determined to fight.
“I want nothing to do with it but all the young fellas are gee-d up and all they want to do is go to war with them,” he told Radio New Zealand via telephone, with sirens blaring in the background.
“They’ve got petrol bombs, they’ve got machetes, they’ve got chainsaws, iron bars, they’ve got all sorts.”
Whakatutu said police, whose numbers were bolstered by two plane loads of reinforcements from the mainland, had warned detainees they would be shot if officers encountered armed resistance.
“I don’t want to get shot for something I’m not involved in,” he said.
The unrest at Christmas Island came as the United Nations’ top human rights body took Australia to task over hardline policies on asylum-seekers, whom it has pushed back by the boatload and incarcerated in offshore camps.
Under Canberra’s tough immigration policy, asylum-seekers arriving by boat are processed on isolated Pacific islands — Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island — rather than the Australian mainland.
As well as asylum-seekers, Christmas Island’s facility is also used to hold non-citizens awaiting deportation, including criminals, after Canberra began cancelling visas of those with convictions.
The immigration department said staff at the centre would sweep all compounds to search for contraband such as weapons before detainees were moved back into normal accommodation.