23 Nov 2009

Afghan, Sri Lankans clash in detention centre brawl

6:01 pm on 23 November 2009

The Australian Immigration Department has launched an inquiry into a riot at its detention centre on Christmas Island.

About 150 Afghan and Sri Lankan detainees were involved in a brawl on Saturday. The ABC reports that they attacked each other with pool cues, tree branches and broom handles.

Staff brought the riot under control within 30 minutes but some guards suffered minor injuries while breaking up the fight. Thirty-seven detainees received medical treatment on the island and another three were flown to Perth with broken bones.

The centre has been under growing pressure, with 44 boatloads of asylum-seekers arriving in Australian waters this year alone.

Overcrowding not to blame, says minister

But Immigration Minister Chris Evans rejects suggestions that the brawl was sparked by overcrowding.

"I think there's been some tensions growing among a certain group of detainees concerned about possible returns to Sri Lanka," he says.

"Just generally [when] you've got a lot of men in one spot, occasionally you have arguments and disputes."

He says the Sri Lankan and Afghan detainees are now being held separately at the centre.

"We're quite comfortable that the centre's being managed properly and we've still got some spare capacity," he says.

The federal police are investigating the incident.