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Christmas Island death and riots November 2015

Christmas Island: Buildings torched in riot following detainee's death; claims guards have left detention centre; Immigration confirms 'disturbance'

Updated 30 minutes ago
A man being held inside the Christmas Island Detention Centre says detainees have set fire to the complex and taken control in the wake of the death of an escapee over the weekend.

Key points:

  • Immigration Department confirms disturbance on island
  • Inmates say buildings torched, riot ongoing
  • NZ MP says detainees are worried for their lives
  • Detainee found dead had "history of attempted suicide"
The Immigration Department has confirmed an ongoing "disturbance" at the Christmas Island detention centre following the death of Iranian Kurdish refugee Fazal Chegeni, whose body was found at the base of a cliff yesterday.
Mr Chegeni's death is being investigated by Australian Federal Police.
There are reports guards have abandoned the detention centre and fences have been torn down.
Twenty-five year-old detainee Matej Cuperka told the ABC ex-convicts who had their Australian visas cancelled after serving time in jail started the riot.
"The death (of the Iranian man) is very, very suspicious," he said.
"They [the inmates who are rioting] believe Serco officers did something to him.
"I clearly heard him in the morning screaming for help, and the next thing I see they be bringing him in a body bag, and after that the whole place went into lockdown.
"About 30 people started a fight with the emergency response team in front of the medical [clinic] where officers left their stations and put the place in lockdown."
"They are setting fires everywhere," Mr Cuperka added.
"They started last night. They have broken into the canteen, into the property area, they started fires over there and now they starting in the compound.
"There are cars full of officers driving around the complex. They are just having a look through the window, but nobody is helping us. I want to get out of here. Get me somewhere safe please."
Another detainee, who stressed that he had not been involved in the riots, said "most of the compounds have actually been broken into, including the medical [compound]".
"The canteen, I can see from where I'm standing now, has been completely ransacked and is burning as I speak to you.
"It's a complete disaster zone.
"The compound that I'm in ... there's a lot of spot fires in there, all the cameras have been smashed up, all the kitchen has been smashed up, the offices have been breached and all the computers and everything has been broken up."
The Immigration Department said the camp's perimeter had not been breached and "the Department and its service providers are working together to resolve the situation".

NZ MP says detainees are in charge

The Christmas Island camp houses New Zealand citizens being deported from Australia, as well as asylum seekers.
New Zealand Labour MP Kelvin Davis said he had been told detainees had "taken over the detention centre".
"I'm hearing that the guards have exited the detention centre, that fences have been torn down and that detainees in the segregated area are mixing with the mainstream detainees," he told the ABC.
"Some of them have been on that island for four, five years and, quite frankly, everyone's sick of being treated like animals and right now they're turning around and biting."
Mr Davis said detainees on the island had told him they were angry about what they believed was a "cover-up" of the truth about how the man died.
He said he hoped authorities negotiated with the detainees to restore order rather than responding violently.
"They [the detainees] are really worried for their lives," he said
"Right now, the lights have been switched off, there's about 60 detainees on the sports field, there's about another 60 wandering around the site.
"One detainee said he fears that the authorities will come in not just with batons but with guns."

Riot 'started after guards asked about man's death'

New Zealand detainee Lester Hohua told ABC NewsRadio the riot was sparked when a guard started arguing with an asylum seeker, who was asking about Mr Chegeni's death.
"When we saw the officer try to fight with the refugee, that's when [some other detainees] stood up, and we didn't give it back or anything, didn't throw any punches, but we said 'you can't do that'," he said.
"And then we came back to our compound and it just all went haywire."
Another New Zealand detainee, who did not wish to be named, told Auckland's TVNZ the centre was in chaos.
"The canteen's been smashed to pieces, there's no security, there's no emergency response team, there's no border patrol, there's no guards, there's nothing," he said.
"They're not here. They've gone. They freaked out and left, I think."
Another detainee, John, said detainees were expecting a strong response from authorities after staff walked out of the centre.
"Probably have the AFP or military come in, using lethal force," he said.
"Everybody is bracing themselves for it. We're not being told anything. There's [no staff] here."
The Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul said he had been in contact with detainees throughout the night.
"The fences are down, [centre management contractor] Serco has abandoned the detention centre, there have been many fires set," Mr Rintoul told 702 ABC Sydney.
"I don't think the accommodation blocks have been burned — a lot of people have not been involved — but there is certainly considerable property damage and breaching of the fences.
"[The man's] death has triggered the tensions inside Christmas Island [detention centre] that have been building for many, many months.
"It is the most systematically brutal of the detention centres run in Australia now."

Escaped detainee had 'history of attempting suicide'

Refugee advocate Pamela Curr said Mr Chegeni had a history of attempting suicide, having previously tried to take his life by jumping from the roof of another detention centre before being sent to Christmas Island.
"He showed me his legal file at one stage, and I am really sorry I ever read it, because that man was most brutally tortured in Iran," she told the ABC.
Despite the fact that he was so brutally tortured, they kept him in detention for years.
Pamela Curr, refugee advocate 
"And our Government knew, because they accepted that evidence and they gave him a positive refugee decision.
"And despite the fact that he was so brutally tortured, they kept him in detention for years.
"We are heartbroken. He was a lovely, gentle man, who should never have died."
Border protection officials had said the centre remained calm after the death.
Another Christmas Island detainee, Matije, said he heard cries for help around the time of Mr Chegeni'sescape.
"The person has been screaming for help and later on, people have been carrying a body bag," he said.
"It was a couple of screams: 'Help, help, help me'."
Christmas Island Shire President Gordon Thompson said locals were confused by "rumours".
"I'm very sad to hear that someone's died," he said. "I'm very, very disappointed that the department has allowed rumour to spread through the community over the last three days, two and a half days, without providing any information."
In 2011 Australian Federal Police fired bean bag bullets at rioters who had set fire to buildings at the centre.
Extra police were flown to the island in a bid to quell the riot, which ran over multiple nights.

Labor calls for more transparency

Shadow Immigration Minister Richard Marles urged the Government to be more transparent over what was going on.
Mr Marles said he could not confirm reports that guards had left their posts following the "tragic death" of Mr Chegeni.
He told the ABC that the Turnbull Government needed to reverse its "terrible" track record of transparency and confirm what was happening.
"There are people inside, we need to know that they are safe," he said.
"This Government doesn't have a very good track record when it comes to transparency around the running of the facilities. They need to be explaining to the Australian people what is happening with these facilities today."
Mr Marles described the facility as an important part of the detention network and called for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to initiate independent oversight of the centre to ensure detainees' safety.
"The Government needs to give an explanation to the Australian people as soon as possible," he said.
"When you're talking about Australian taxpayer funded facilities, it's important that Australians have a sense of confidence that these are places which provide safe, dignified and humane refuge."

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