Accessibility links

Protesters Occupy Roof at Australian Immigration Camp

  • Phil Mercer

A second group of protesters has taken to the roof at an Australian immigrant detention camp in Sydney. The action follows a similar demonstration this week when Sri Lankan detainees along with an Iraqi and an Iranian spent 30 hours on a roof at the Villawood detention center.

Nine detainees climbed to the top of a building at the Villawood immigration center early Wednesday.

Visa Violations

Immigration officials say the men and women are not boat people, and refugee advocates say they are Chinese who are being detained for visa violations.

The new protest began several hours after 11 inmates ended their rooftop protest. The group – mostly Sri Lankans but also including an Iraqi and an Iranian – pleaded for their failed refugee applications to be reviewed. Representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees negotiated a peaceful end to a 30-hour standoff.

That demonstration followed the death of a Fijian man, who apparently jumped from the roof to avoid being sent home.

Detention centers under pressure

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says protests are not unusual at Australia's immigration camps, and the government is working to expand the number of people the system can hold.

"Look historically we do see from time to time these sorts of protest at our detention centers. Sometimes they've gone on for quite a long period of time," Bowen said. "Obviously we like to minimize those. I've made it clear also and in as upfront way as I can, that our detention centers are under some pressures. I've run out some measures to deal with those and obviously those measures are important in determining that our detention centers are able to cope with this increased pressure."

Australia detains those who violate visa conditions, until the charges against them are heard. It also holds people who try to enter the country illegally until their claims for asylum can be heard.

The detention facilities, however, have become overcrowded because of the influx of asylum seekers trying to enter the country by boat over the past 18 months. Refugee advocates say the detentions, which can last over a year, are harsh and violate the rights of asylum seekers.

Hunger strike

Another group of refugees at Villawood has begun a hunger strike to protest the length of time they have been detained.

Bowen Wednesday flew to Australia's biggest detention facility on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean to assess overcrowding there.

The government plans to expand an immigration center in Western Australia and build a new facility at an air force base in Queensland. In addition, the government wants to build a detention facility in neighboring East Timor, where boat people can wait for their applications to be processed.

Canberra is a signatory to various international resettlement programs and grants refugee visas to about 13,000 people annually.