Fazel Chegeni: Riot breaks out at Christmas Island detention centre after refugee found dead

Refugees began damaging property and setting small fires in the wake of the Iranian Kurd's death after fleeing the centre

Caroline Mortimer
Monday 09 November 2015 10:01
Christmas Island has become notorious in recent years as refugees are detained while their asylum claims are processed
Christmas Island has become notorious in recent years as refugees are detained while their asylum claims are processed

A riot has broken out at an Australian refugee detention centre on Christmas Island following the death of a man who attempted to escape.

Australia’s immigration department confirmed there had been a "major disturbance" at the detention centre but they were working to restore calm.

Refugee advocates say an Iranian Kurdish man, Fazel Chegeni, escaped from the facility on Saturday but was found dead the following day at the bottom of cliffs on the island.

The cause of Mr Chegeni death is still under investigation.

Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition told the Sydney Morning Herald: "I think we have seen an explosion of anger over a faceless death and the brutality they confront inside, day in, day out".

He said Mr Chegeni had been deemed a refugee two years ago but had been charged with assault following a fight with other detainees at the detention centre.

Fazel Chegeni was found dead at the bottom of cliffs on the island after escaping on Saturday

The immigration department said the problem began when a small group of Iranian detainees began a peaceful protest in response to Mr Chegeni’s death.

The department said other detainees then began damaging property, including lighting several fires.

Officials stressed they believed the people involved in the riot were detainees who had already had their visas denied rather than asylum seekers still waiting to be processed.

A New Zealand politician, Kelvin Davis, recently visited the island and said New Zealanders who were held at the facility had told him that detainees had taken over the centre.

He told the ABC: "They have put holes in the walls, so even if they are rounded up and put back in the cells they actually can't be locked up".

The Australian government has been criticism for a tough stance against refugees in recent years.

Refugees who pay people smugglers to make the dangerous journey in rickety boats across the sea from Indonesia are detained in centres on Christmas Island and the Pacific nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Mr Chegeni is believed to have been at the centre for 10 weeks before his death.

"Like so many others, Fazel, was suffering the effects of long-term arbitrary detention. He had told other detainees that he could no longer stand being in detention and just wanted 'to go outside'", Mr Rintoul said.

Additional reporting by AP

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