ASYLUM-SEEKERS ganged up on guards and smashed a roller door to escape their locked-down compound during a six-hour riot that officials fear is a sign of things to come at the Christmas Island detention centre.
As frustrations grow over rolling rejections, the riot on Thursday night began when a detainee who was told he was not considered a refugee “went berserk”, sparking a running battle in which 100 men pelted police and guards with projectiles.
Federal police in riot gear used capsicum spray and fired at least one beanbag bullet in an attempt to subdue the rioters who had armed themselves with metal poles, sporting equipment and broken concrete. It was the worst violence on the island since the devastating March riots.
Three men spent Thursday night on a roof — with two of them still there last night — because neither police nor guards could talk them down.
Guards had been trying to move the agitated detainee to the Red Block, a high-security isolation unit, when fellow detainees blocked them.
The Weekend Australian understands guards then tried to move a second detainee but were also blocked by the angry mob.
Police handed control of the centre back to contractor Serco at 5.30am yesterday. One Serco staffer was slightly injured and received hospital treatment.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday said there were “a lot” of people in detention who were not genuine refugees. “That does lead to some degree of consternation and frustration within our detention network,” he said.
The department is rejecting detainees at an increased rate. Figures show 73.9 per cent of detainees got a “yes” on their first attempt in 2009-10, but that dropped to 27.2 per cent in the first six months of this financial year.
All rejected asylum-seekers are entitled to a review and the department’s figures show that 78.6 per cent get their rejections overturned. But reviews take time, and increasingly detainees are venting their frustrations.
In recent weeks, three guards have told police they have been attacked, with one claiming an Iranian poured boiling water from a kettle over him.
“The rejections are causing a lot of angst and there’s still the issue of the length of time they have been on the island,”one island official said. “There is also anticipation of a lot of charges for those involved in the March riots.”
It is understood federal police are close to charging up to 30 male detainees — all of them held at the main detention centre — over the unrest on March 17.
Mr Bowen has pledged severe consequences for those involved, and introduced new rules banning any asylum-seeker convicted of an offence from receiving a permanent protection visa.
Mr Bowen said he hoped the Malaysian deal would help quell the number of violent disturbances. “The important thing is the (deal) reduces the number of people coming to Australia by breaking the people-smuggling model,” he said. “If you have that effect than obviously you have less people in detention.”
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Labor’s policies were to blame for Thursday’s riots.