Added by David Sandercock on March 15, 2011
A protest by some 300 asylum seekers detained on Christmas Island turned into a riot as police used teargas and handcuffs on suspected protest leaders, a refugee support organisation say.
The protest saw one detainee with a suspected broken leg taken to hospital, and significant damage done to doors and fences. Chris Bowen, Immigration Minister, said an inquiry into the protest and the use of teargas by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) was underway.
The AFP will also perform its own investigation to determine whether any charges should be laid.
Mr Bowen said the protest was a sign of the frustration experienced at the detention centre, but he told reporters that “The best way of resolving the situation for them [the refugees] is to cooperate with the processing of their refugee assessment claims.”
A spokesperson for the group Refuge Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul, quoted inside sources saying the riot was sparked by a planned “snatch and grab” raid by the AFP and Serco, the company that runs the centre, to round up those suspected of being protest “ringleaders”.
However, according to Mr Rintoul, the attempt at “showing who was in charge” seriously backfired. He added that the use of teargas and batons, something that has not been seen since the Howard era, was “absurdly heavy-handed and repressive”.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the riot was a sign of a “detention system in crisis” and that the government needs to return to the policies used by the Howard government if they want to be able to stop the boats from arriving in Australia.