Australia: Asylum-seekers rebel against treatment of migrants

Asylum-seeker riot blaze sees 22 arrested

Friday 22 April 2011

Sydney, Australia — Australian police investigating a riot at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre were still questioning 22 people today about a protest and fire started by asylum-seekers which erupted late on Wednesday night.

A handful of protesters remained camped out on rooftops at the centre today, with officials sending up supplies of food and water.

Immigration Department spokesman Sandi Logan said officials would not negotiate with the protesters until they came down from the roof.

Criminal charges could be filed against the rioters, some of whom threw roof tiles and pieces of furniture at officials trying to get the conflagration under control.

Up to 100 people being held at the centre were involved in the riot, which began when two detainees climbed onto a roof.

Protesters set an oxygen cylinder alight and fire gutted nine buildings.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control on Thursday.

No-one was injured.

Around 400 people are held at Villawood.

Many of them are asylum-seekers, but the facility also houses people who have overstayed their visas.

Officials have not released details of the protesters’ nationalities.

Some of the people involved in the protest were asylum-seekers who had had their visa applications rejected, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said.

Police have removed 22 people from Villawood and transferred them to a prison where they are being held for questioning.

Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan said the detainees who were removed were suspected of causing damage during the protest.

Australia has seen a surge of asylum-seekers fleeing Sri Lanka, Iraq and Afghanistan and protests at detention centres have become relatively common.

The influx has led to a heated political debate as opposition politicians blame the inflow on a relaxation of immigration policies by the ruling Labour Party.

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