Saturday, March 19, 2011

Rioters try to escape Australian detention center

By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press March 17, 2011

CANBERRA, Australia – More than 200 rioters torched buildings and tried to
escape a crowded Australian offshore detention center in an escalation of
protests there to gain asylum in the country, officials said Friday.

More than 100 police firing non-lethal so-called bean bag rounds and tear
gas canisters regained control over the detention center on Christmas
Island after the riot started Thursday night, Immigration Minister Chris
Bowen said.

Two administration buildings were burned as well as seven accommodation
tents after more than 200 asylum seekers armed with bricks and polls and
throwing rocks charged police and the perimeter fences, Australian Federal
Police Deputy Commissioner Steve Lancaster said.

Some rioters breached the perimeter wall and police were not yet sure
whether all had been recaptured, he said.

Two asylum seekers were taken to hospital, one with chest injuries and
another suffering chest pains, Immigration Department official Sandi Logan

The riot follows a week of sometimes violent protests at immigration
detention centers on the Indian Ocean island and on the Australian
mainland over delays in processing asylum applications. Authorities are
struggling to cope with increasing numbers of asylum seekers from
Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka who attempt to reach Australia by

"A small group of detainees have made it clear that they would continue
violent action until they were granted visas," Bowen told reporters.

"We don't let that sort of behavior influence our consideration of visa
applications," he added.

Authorities were responding to the riots by accelerating plans to relocate
hundreds of the 2,500 detainees on Christmas Island to mainland detention
centers to reduce crowding and by bringing in police reinforcements.

A total of 105 detainees, none of whom was involved in the fracas, were
flown from the island Friday, while 70 police were flown in, bringing
total police strength to 188.

"This is a very tense and serious situation," Bowen said.

Police would investigate charging the rioters. Bowen warned that the
culprits could fail their refugee test on character grounds.

An asylum seeker broke his leg in another Christmas Island protest this
week that police quelled.

The detainees include asylum seekers whose refugee applications have yet
to be judged, those who have had their applications rejected but refuse to
return to their homelands and those who have been accepted as refugees but
are pending security clearances before they are freed in Australia.

Human Rights Commissioner Catherine Branson, the federal government's
rights watchdog, is concerned about processing delays which have left most
of the 6,500 asylum seekers currently in Australia in detention for more
than six months.

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