Australian Immigration Detention Hit with Second Day of Riots

Posted July 21st, 2011 at 6:10 am (UTC-5)
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Australian police have put down violent protests at an immigration detention center on remote Christmas Island for a second consecutive day.

Despite the violence, authorities say another 52 asylum seekers who arrived in Australia this week will be sent to the overcrowded facility. A boat carrying the asylum seekers and two crew members was intercepted near Christmas Island overnight.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said 20 to 40 detainees set fire to mattresses and a building early Thursday, causing significant damage at the center some 2,000 kilometers from the Australian mainland.

As with Wednesday's pre-dawn protest, forces with the Australian Federal Police used tear gas and lead-filled “bean bag” cushion rounds to bring the situation under control.

Australia's immigration detention centers are crammed with refugees from countries inlcuding Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iraq, most of whom arrive by boat through Indonesia and other neighboring countries. Under Australian law, anyone arriving without proper documentation is detained while their application for asylum is considered, a process that often takes months.

The government has proposed new rules that will place tougher restrictions on refugees who commit offenses while in detention. Asylum seekers who fail so-called “character tests” would be barred from receiving permanent residence in Australia, and could face deportation be granted temporary visas.

Riots broke out earlier this year at Christmas Island and at Sydney's Villawood Detention Center, where at least 100 detainees set fire to several buildings in April.