Staff at the Christmas Island detention centre have been removed from the facility “for their own safety”, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection says amid ongoing unrest at centre.
It comes as Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told Parliament on Monday that there were “no suspicious circumstances” in relation to the death of an Iranian asylum seeker, who refugee action groups have identified as Fazel Chegeni.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, the Immigration department said there was no “large scale riot” involving the majority of the centre’s population, “but the centre remains tense and staff have been withdrawn from compounds for safety reasons”.
The department said initial protests by a group of Iranian detainees had begun peacefully in response to the escape and death of Mr Chegeni.
But they had been overtaken by another group of detainees, believed to be mostly foreign nationals whose visas had been revoked under section 501 of the Migration Act.
“While peaceful protest is permissible, other detainees took advantage of the situation to engage in property damage and general unrest,” a department spokesperson said.
“A number of small fires have been lit within the centre.
“There is believed to be damage to medical, educational and sporting facilities but a full assessment is yet to be conducted. There are no reports at this time of any injuries to detainees or staff.
“The perimeter of the centre remains secure and patrols by service provider staff are continuing.”
A New Zealand detainee, Ricky Downs, told TVNZ guards had fled.
“The canteen’s been smashed to pieces, there’s no security, there’s no emergency response team, there’s no border patrol, there’s no guards, there’s nothing,” he said, according to audio provided to ABC radio.
One New Zealand detainee, who asked to be referred to by his nickname “Bubbles”, told Fairfax Media “the 501’s have taken over the facility”.
“Everything is burnt. The medical centre is burnt. The canteen is burnt. It’s havoc – we’ve had enough,” he said.
He said the initial disturbance had subsided on Monday, but detainees predicted tensions could flare up again when staff returned.
“At the moment, everyone’s just chilling. We’ve got coffee. [We’re] relaxing, waiting for the confrontation.”
Mr Dutton told question time on Monday: “If people have caused damage to Commonwealth property, they will be investigated and prosecuted in relation to those matters.”
He said his advice from the department was that a refugee had escaped the facility on Saturday and was found dead on Sunday.
“There is obviously a coronial inquiry in relation to the circumstances surrounding that death of that individual,” Mr Dutton said.
“I’m advised there are no suspicious circumstances in relation to the death.”
He said the government would wait for that investigation to conclude before making further comment on the death. (Sydney Morning Herald)