(Reuters) - Fences at an immigration detention facility on the remote Australian outpost of Christmas Island were torn down and fires were lit following the death of a detainee, forcing some guards to abandon the facility, according to reports on Monday.
Australia’s Department of Immigration confirmed there was a “disturbance” at the center, saying there were reports of damage but no injuries.
The incident followed the death of an inmate who had escaped over the weekend. The Department of Immigration said the man, identified by refugee advocates as an Iranian Kurdish asylum seeker, had escaped on Saturday. His body was discovered by search and rescue teams on Sunday at the bottom of cliffs away from the center, the department said.
New Zealand Labour Party corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis, who recently visited the center, told Radio New Zealand the riot had started when an inmate inquiring about the death was hit by a guard.
“I believe a fence has been torn down and detainees from the segregated unit have joined the other detainees. I believe that canisters have been fired into the compound but haven’t gone off,” he said.
Asylum seekers are a hot political issue in Australia. Successive governments have vowed to stop them reaching the mainland, sending those intercepted on unsafe boats to camps on Christmas Island, and more recently Manus island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific.
A Christmas Island detainee told Radio NZ on condition of anonymity that they did not believe what they were told about the circumstances of the death.
“Everybody is just angry,” he said. “We have had enough of what they’re doing with us.”
Guards have abandoned the detention center after the riots began, he told the radio station, adding that at least 100 detainees had assembled and were preparing for a fight when the guards return.
Reporting by Swati Pandey and Charlotte Greenfield in Wellington; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Hugh Lawson