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Another Night of Violence at Woomera Camp in South Australia


Australian authorities have fired water cannon to stop dozens of asylum seekers from breaking out of one of the country's controversial camps for illegal immigrants. This was the third straight night of violence at the remote Woomera camp in South Australia.

Extra police have been deployed to control this week's rioting at Woomera, the largest and most isolated of Australia's six detention centers for illegal immigrants.

An Immigration spokeswoman said up to 60 detainees broke through internal security fencing overnight and attempted to breach the external perimeter. A water cannon was used to force the rioters back inside the compound.

A wave of unrest has hit the desert camp this week, where hundreds of mostly Middle Eastern asylum seekers who arrived illegally are housed. Many buildings have been destroyed by detainees and six guards injured.

Authorities at Woomera confirmed two asylum seekers have mutilated themselves during the disturbances and are being treated in the hospital.

The violence has thrown the spotlight on Australia's strict policy of detaining anyone entering the country illegally or overstaying visas. They are placed in secure camps while their applications to stay are handled. The processing usually takes months, but in some cases, it can drag on for years.

There are more than 2,300 people in detention camps in Australia. The number has been falling since August, when Australia began denying entry to a series of boats illegally carrying asylum seekers.

A coalition of Australian religious leaders is calling for the government to soften its refugee policy. Human rights groups have also condemned the system of automatic detention.

Despite the criticism, the conservative government here is unmoved, saying it will decide who comes to Australia and how to deal with refugees. The policy also appears to have popular support. Prime Minister John Howard was returned to office for a third term by campaigning on the immigration issue during November's elections.

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