Detainees 'rioting' on Christmas Island

1:26 pm on 9 November 2015

Australian officials are trying to resolve a standoff with detainees at the Christmas Island detention centre who have reportedly taken control of the camp.

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 escaped.

An Iranian Kurd, who officials say had arrived illegally by boat, was found dead on Sunday after he escaped from the main North West Point immigration detention centre.

The detainees reportedly kicked through walls at the centre, but Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection said the camp's perimeter was secure and no injuries had been reported.

There are reports of damage in the centre, where detainees lit fires when they rioted.

Officials said they were working with the centre's operator, Serco, to resolve the situation.

Earlier today, one of the detainees, who asked not to be named, told Morning Report the recent death had "just pushed everyone a bit far",

"We see it all the time, people are trying to hurt themselves, trying to kill themselves," the detainee said.

He said detainees who were locked in decided to kick through a wall and through corrugated iron outside of the wall. "Once one of the compound succeeded in doing that the rest of the compound followed suit and then we pretty much banded together and got all the segregation guys out as well."

"The staff disappeared, we haven't seen them for the last ... four or five hours, I don't think they have the capacity to deal with this situation at the moment."

NZ detainee Lester Hohua told ABC Radio convicted criminals with cancelled visas like him had joined forces with asylum seekers.

"It all went haywire," Hohua said, adding guards were just circling the perimeter of the compound.

Another detainee in the 'green compound' of the centre has told Nine to Noon that about 100 detainees are now together, and were getting ready for the security guards to come back.

He said the situation had calmed down in the past few hours, but detainees were angry and did not want to negotiate with the guards.

"No one is ready to talk to the guards. We are sick of their lies. Every time we negotiate with them, they never follow through on their deals and they lock us up in our cells and beat us up where no one can see. They're not going to force that again.

"We're all just waiting here together to see what they are going to do. It might not be nothing, but at least our voices will be heard, because nobody seems to be listening at all."

Labour's corrections spokesperson, Kelvin Davis, who last month visited Christmas Island detainees, said a detainee had told him by phone at 4.30am today that there had been a riot and fences had been torn down.

"A detainee was asking a guard how that person died and got punched in the face for his efforts and that's what's really set things off," Mr Davis told Morning Report.

"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."

Australian Federal Police found the body on Sunday after a day-long search for the man.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed the escape from the Australian-run detention centre and the man's death, and said the matter was being investigated by the coroner.

In a statement, the department said the escape was reported on Saturday of an "illegal maritime arrival" and a police search discovered a body the following day.

The Refugee Action Coalition said the man was in his 30s.

Border protection officials earlier told the ABC the situation was calm at the detention centre.

The centre houses non-citizens, including dozens of New Zealanders, who have served more than a year in jail and who are liable for deportation under tougher visa laws Australia enacted last year.

Christmas Island Shire president Gordon Thomson said he was angry local residents had been told nothing about how the asylum seeker escaped from the local detention centre and died.

"I am very sad to hear that someone has died," he said. Mr Thomson said the escape had triggered an element of panic in the communityand a lack of information had allowed rumours to spread.

The centre in the Australian territory has been in operation since December 2008, but earlier this year the federal budget outlined the winding down of detention facilities on Christmas Island.

The budget included plans to close the Phosphate Hill and Construction Camp facilities.

It also said the main North West Point centre - where the asylum seeker who was found dead on Sunday went missing from - would only be used as a contingency from 2016.

In the five months after the announcement, the number of detainees at the detention centre tripled to 221, with one detainee claiming that asylum seekers were being detained alongside criminals waiting to be deported.

- ABC / RNZ

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