[ 20. Dec 2001 ]

Migrants resume riot at Australien camp

Asylum seekers have carried out a second night of violent protests at a remote detention centre in the South Australian outback. The authorities at the Woomera detention camp used water cannon and tear gas to calm the situation, after detainees set fire to five buildings.


Rioters were dispersed with water cannon and tear gas

Daryl WilliamsActing Immigration Minister Hundreds were reported to have pelted staff with stones and some of them attacked a perimeter fence until extra security arrived. The latest incidents come after 15 buildings were set alight and several were destroyed the night before. On both occasions the asylum seekers were reported to be chanting demands for visas.

Refugee campaigners say there is rising discontent in the immigration camps, where asylum seekers can be held for as long as five years before their applications are processed. The unrest is the worst of a series of incidents at the camp in the past 18 months.

Attorney-General Daryl Williams, speaking as acting immigration minister, warned the Woomera protesters that the campaign would not intimidate the government into issuing refugee visas. "The message I think we need to get to the detainees who are conducting this criminal campaign is that vandalism is not going to get you a visa," he said on Wednesday.

Government officials said on Tuesday the damage would run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. The fires then destroyed three, new purpose-built accommodation facilities, a dining hall and a computing facility. On Wednesday morning, the situation at Woomera was described as calm with no injuries reported, but the centre remained on a high alert with additional security.

"No hope"

"In this kind of environment people lose all sense of hope, particularly as they"ve no notion how long they will be there," said the head of the Refugee Council of Australia, Margaret Piper. To hold them for any length of time is against international law.

Amnesty International has called for an inquiry into Australia"s policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers, which includes women and children. "We believe that there should be some form of detention to determine people"s identities, health or security risk, but to hold them for any length of time is against international law," Amnesty Australia spokesman Stuart Webb told Australian radio.

Woomera is one of six detention centres set up in isolated areas to detain illegal immigrants while their claims for asylum are investigated. Under the government"s hardline policies aimed at deterring boat people, recent arrivals have instead been shipped off to the Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to have their claims assessed.