9 Nov 2015

NZ won't intervene at Christmas Island - PM

7:18 pm on 9 November 2015

The New Zealand government will not intervene following a riot at the Christmas Island detention centre in Australia, Prime Minister John Key says.

Christmas Island detention centre

Christmas Island Photo: AAP

Trouble broke out at the centre, which houses both asylum seekers and New Zealanders awaiting deportation, in the early hours of this morning, after the death of an asylum seeker who had escaped.

Officials from Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection said a report on the death was being prepared for the coroner.

John key on the bridge at Parliament.

Prime Minister John Key Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

They denied there was a large-scale riot, but said the facility remained tense and there were a number of small fires.

A group of detainees continued to agitate and cause damage to the centre and staff had been withdrawn for their own safety, they said.

Officials believed medical, educational and sports facilities had been damaged but said there were no reports of any injuries to detainees or staff.

The perimeter of the centre remained secure and patrols were being carried out, they said.

Mr Key said his office had received a briefing on the riot and he understood a small number of New Zealanders might have been involved.

However, any incidents at the detention centre were a matter for the Australian government, he said.

"If there was a problem at Paremoremo [Prison, in Auckland], I don't think the Australian Prime Minister would fly over or the Australian officials would fly over to Paremoremo," he said.

"[Christmas Island] is an Australian Corrections facility."

The New Zealand detainees were free to leave Christmas Island and return to New Zealand whenever they pleased, he said.

Detainees describe damage

Detainees on the island have described chaos and destruction inside the detention centre.

New Zealand detainee Tuk Whakatutu told Checkpoint there were rumours that the army was going to be brought in to try and restore order.

Not all the detainees were involved but about 100 were, he said.

"All the segro boys, they went up and broke out three units of segro boys, that are separated from us [in segregation], so all them in punishment, and everything snowballed from there.

"They started lighting fires, broke into a canteen, broke into the medical units and stole all the drugs.

"Broke into the property department there and destroyed that, lit it on fire. Lit all the rubbish bins. All the units are trashed. Yeah, they've just destroyed it."

'They're coming for us'

Some of the asylum-seekers in the centre said they feared for their safety from the convicted criminals who had been rioting.

Matej Cuperka, a 25-year-old asylum-seeker from Slovakia, said the guards left the detention facility after fighting with the deportees started.

He and his associates had barricaded themselves into their compound because they had a long history of intimidation from the deportees, he said.

"We've been previously abused and we've feared for our lives. Now that they've robbed the canteen and the medical centre, they have nothing else to do, so they're coming for us."

There were no guards at the site and there was no protection, he said.

A separate unnamed detainee said he and about 25 other people had barricaded themselves into a compound to protect themselves from others who were rioting.

They had been left to their own devices, as the guards had abandoned the camp, and he had no idea what would happen next, he said.

A group opposed to the Christmas Island detention centre, meanwhile, said it had been a powder-keg situation at the camp for several months.

Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul said the feeling amongst detainees at the camp had been tense for a while, because of the way the detention centre was used as a punishment island.

Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it was working with the centre's operator, Serco, and federal police on the island to resolve the situation.