Asylum seekers riot in Australia Detention Centre

Posted by admin on Apr 21st, 2011

Villawood detainee protest continues
Miles Godfrey and Danielle McGrane
April 21, 2011, AAP

A protest at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre is expected to last one more night but there will be no more violence, detainees say.

However, those detainees involved in the tense stand-off with police may have already lost their asylum claims, federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says.

The Villawood centre southwest of the city erupted in a riot involving up to 100 detainees on Wednesday night, leaving nine buildings gutted by fire.
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By Thursday afternoon six protesters were left on the roof of one building, with one man threatening suicide before being hauled from the edge of a roof by the remaining asylum seekers.

One protester, known as Majid, told AAP via telephone no more violence was planned.

“No no, I don’t think there will be more violence,” he said.

“But we will stay here as long as it takes.”

Earlier Majid said he had been in detention for 20 months, had no criminal record and wanted freedom in exchange for ending his protest.

But Mr Bowen said the detainees involved at Villawood risked having their claims denied if they hadn’t already been rejected.

“I will be applying the character test to those who may have been involved in this incident and I will be applying it vigorously,” he told reporters in Newcastle.

He said that while there wasn’t yet a dollar figure on the damage caused he expected it would be “substantial” and could run into the millions.

The protest at Villawood was triggered after two men climbed onto the roof of the main centre early on Wednesday.

They were soon joined by 11 others and by midnight up to 100 people were involved, vandalising and setting fire to buildings.

An oxygen cylinder was torched leading to an explosion shortly after 2am (AEST) on Thursday.

Neighbouring resident Barry Jones vented his frustration at the stand-off.

“There’s always protests here. Every Easter they have one,” he told AAP.

“You can never get to sleep, there are always sirens going off.”

There have been reports roof tiles were thrown at firefighters during the riot, which started about 11.30pm on Wednesday.

Detainees had claimed the firefighters aimed hoses at them.

Chief superintendent Marcus Barker of Fire and Rescue NSW told reporters outside the centre on Thursday the hoses were used only to control fires in three burning buildings and he refused to comment on reports roof tiles were hurled at firefighters.

The Villawood unrest is the second upheaval at a detention centre in six weeks.

In March there was a violent protest at the Christmas Island detention centre in which as many as 300 detainees rioted and reportedly burned down accommodation tents and small buildings.

This second incident has opened up the federal government to fresh criticism from the opposition and its partners in government, the Greens.

“Crimes were committed last night again in Villawood, and the Australian people expect this government to take control of the detention network,” coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

Federal Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the protest was a symptom of failures within the system. She called on the government to act.

Earlier, NSW premier Barry O’Farrell raised concerns about a lack of arrangements between the state and federal government to deal with detention centre riots.

NSW police were reportedly unable to enter the centre for four hours when they were called at about 11.30 Wednesday night, because the centre is housed on commonwealth land.

Mr O’Farrell said he would raise the lack of emergency response arrangements with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Later, the immigration department said detainees were being given cold food, such as sandwiches, and water.

A temporary kitchen was being flown up from Melbourne overnight so hot meals could be provided.

“At this stage, there are no plans to move people off site,” the department said in a statement.

“Damage to accommodation blocks appears to be minor.

“However, the department is working with police to fully assess the extent of the damage to the centre.”

A police investigation would be conducted to identify the detainees involved.

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