Aussie cops used tear gas in migrant centre riot

SYDNEY • Australian police used tear gas to put down a two-day riot at a migrant detention centre yesterday, where detainees, reportedly armed with machetes, chainsaws and petrol bombs, were running amok.

Reinforcements were sent to the remote Christmas Island facility after violence erupted and fires were set in a protest triggered on Sunday by the unexplained death of a man.

"The department can confirm all areas of the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Facility are under the full and effective control of service providers and department staff," the Immigration Department said in a statement.

Five detainees were being treated for non-life threatening injuries, while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the damage bill would be well over A$1 million (S$1 million).

Police used tear gas and bean-bag rounds - designed to deliver an immobilising but not lethal blow - to subdue rioters. "Some force was used with a core group of detainees who had built barricades and actively resisted attempts to secure compounds, including threatened use of weapons and improvised weapons," the department said.

The disturbance at the Indian Ocean centre began after an escaped asylum-seeker, named in Australian media as Iranian-Kurdish man Fazel Chegeni, was found dead. Reports said his body was found at the base of a cliff. Canberra has said there were no suspicious circumstances.

Christmas Island segregates detainees seeking political asylum from foreigners facing deportation for a variety of crimes such as rape.

Detainees have complained about their treatment at the facility.

One man, New Zealander Tuk Whakatutu, said earlier yesterday the detainees had retreated into one of the detention centre's compounds after they were surrounded by police in riot gear. Mr Whakatutu said most were hoping for a peaceful resolution but a hardcore group of 20 to 30 young men were "tooled up" and determined to fight.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'Aussie cops used tear gas in migrant centre riot'. Print Edition | Subscribe