20 Jul 2013

Order restored after Nauru detainees riot

8:45 pm on 20 July 2013

Australian officials say a protest by asylum-seekers on the island of Nauru was planned before Friday's announcement of a tough new resettlement policy by prime minister Kevin Rudd.

More than 100 detainees on Nauru are now in police custody after the protest at the island's detention centre on Friday night turned into a full-scale riot, and the ringleaders are being questioned. The riot caused $A60 million worth of damage and left four people in hospital.

A security guard who does not want to be named says asylum-seekers took over the centre, gained access to a kitchen and armed themselves with knives and steel bars. The Immigration Department says buildings were burned to the ground, including accommodation blocks, a health centre and the dining-room.

There are 545 male detainees at Nauru, and 129 have been identified as involved in the riot, the ABC reports. The ringleaders are expected to be charged with affray and property damage.

Many detainees reportedly escaped during the riot but the Immigration Department says all have now been accounted for.

AAP reports the Refugee Action Coalition as saying the riot is unlikely to have been related to Mr Rudd's announcement that asylum-seekers who pay people-smugglers to take them by boat to Australia will no longer be allowed to settle in Australia.

Those claiming refugee status will instead be sent to Papua New Guinea for assessment and, if found to be refugees, they will be settled there. If not, they will be sent home or to a third country.

"They have been protesting on Nauru all week," coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul says. He says uncertainty and delays of up to five years in the processing of asylum-seekers for possible refugee status led to the riot.