Pacific News Minute: Riot at Australian Offshore Detention Center Ends in Clouds of Tear Gas

Nov 11, 2015

Christmas Island immigration reception and processing center.
Credit Wikipedia Commons

Inmates took over parts of an Australian detention camp for three days this week.  The high security facility on remote Christmas Island houses both asylum seekers and convicted criminals awaiting deportation (this is the Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, not the one that's part of Kiribas).  More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

The incident could not have come at a worse moment for the Australian Government.  Australia just happened to be up for a periodic review by the UN Human Rights Council this week, and nation after nation rose to criticize immigration policies that send all those trying to arrive by sea to a network of offshore camps - one on Australia's Christmas Island located more than 1600 miles northwest of Perth.

Last Saturday, an Iranian Kurd named Fazel Chegeni escaped from the camp.  His body was found at the base of a cliff the following morning.  Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said that he had been granted refugee status after he arrived - but five years awaiting resettlement exacerbated his mental health problems.  On hearing of his death, a small number of detainees reportedly set fires, smashed windows and set up barricades.  Greg Barns of the Australian Lawyers Alliance told the New York Times: "They are all suffering the deleterious effects of being held on a small, hot, wet, remote island with nothing to do." 

On Tuesday, Australian police reinforcements used tear gas and what a spokesman called some force to re-establish control.  Five men were reported injured, seven were flown to the Australian mainland to face charges.  Immigration Minister Peter Dutton blamed the violence on hardened criminals and added that asylum seekers on Christmas Island had been sent to the high security facility as a result of their own behavior.  Critics denounce the Australian policy as arbitrary, unfair and cruel.