News / Asia

Asylum Seekers Torch Australian Detention Center

Five detainees gather on a rooftop of the Villawood Detention Center in Sydney, Australia, April 21, 2011
Five detainees gather on a rooftop of the Villawood Detention Center in Sydney, Australia, April 21, 2011
Phil Mercer

Detainees have set fire to nine buildings at an Australian detention center in what is thought to have been a protest against the rejection of asylum claims.

A night of mayhem at the Villawood immigration facility in Sydney saw firefighters and police pelted with roof tiles and pieces of furniture, while the government in Canberra promised that it would not cave in to violence. A computer room, kitchen, medical facilities and a laundry were among the buildings destroyed.

Protests began late Wednesday, with an estimated 100 detainees involved in the violence. Several buildings were torched, and the center’s unarmed guards were forced to flee. Many of the protesters took to the roofs of the facility’s buildings. At one stage riot police were called in to protect the firefighters.

Those involved are mostly thought to be Iraqis and Iranians whose applications to stay in Australia as refugees are reported to have been rejected. Other inmates have complained about the length of time it is taking Australian authorities to process their asylum applications.

Australian Immigration Department spokesman Sandy Logan says emergency teams faced great hostility as the fires raged out of control within the complex.

"It took some time for the firefighters to be able to gain entry - it wasn't until New South Wales Police Public Order and Riot Squad were here promptly, escorted the firefighters back into the center," said Logan. "They had had roof tiles and other pieces of furniture being hurled at them by some of the detainees, so it was impossible for them to extinguish the blaze in the early hours of the morning. But, with the riot squad protection, they were able to do that."

Australia automatically detains asylum seekers while their claims for refugee status are processed. Many are held on Christmas Island, a remote Indian Ocean territory 2,600 kilometers from Australia’s northwestern coast.

However, a steady increase in the number of people arriving by boat, including many from Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka, has forced the government to send more detainees to camps on the mainland.

Overcrowding and frustrations about the processing of visa applications have prompted violent disturbances and escapes at several centers in recent weeks, including Villawood in Sydney and on Christmas Island.

Refugee advocates say the protests are an act of desperation by people who are terrified of being sent back to their troubled homelands, while the Australian government is warning that the violence at its immigration facilities will not be tolerated and that criminal charges may follow.

Australia grants protection visas to about 13,000 refugees each year under various international programs.

You May Like

Isolation, Despair Weigh on Refugees in Remote German Camp

Refugees resettled near village of Holzdorf deep in German forestland say there is limited interaction with public, mutual feelings of distrust

Britons Divided Over Bombing IS

Surveys show Europeans generally support more military action against Islamic State militants, but sizable opposition exists in Britain

Russia Blacklists Soros Foundations as 'Undesirable'

Russian officials add Soros groups to a list of foreign and international organizations banned from giving grants to Russian partners

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs