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Asylum Seekers Turn to Violence in Australia Detention Camp - 2001-11-22


Frustrated asylum seekers have turned to violence in an Australian detention camp. The Woomera center this week has seen a riot, a breakout and fires.

Asylum seekers say they are increasingly angry about Australia's policy of holding them in camps until their applications for asylum are processed. Their frustration boiled over this week, as a riot and three fires hit the remote Woomera camp.

Immigration authorities also confirmed that six Iranian detainees escaped from Woomera late last week, but were recaptured a few hours later in a nearby town.

Refugee advocates say the events of the past few days at Woomera show how desperate the detainees are. Some advocates say the asylum application process, which can take five years, is too long. Ian Rintoul from the Refugees Action Coalition in Sydney warned that Woomera may see more trouble as detainees become angrier. "There is just a growing sense of frustration, desperation, hopelessness even, about their whole situation, which has led to these things and is going to lead to more riots and things in the future," he said

Under a new Australian policy, migrants who try to arrive illegally by sea are intercepted and diverted to small Pacific island nations. The migrants, mostly from the Middle East and Asia, must wait on those islands for their applications to be processed.

Those who apply for asylum after arriving in Australia by plane are locked up until their applications are dealt with.

The government says the policy is fair to asylum seekers trying to enter illegally, and protects the country's borders.

To help stem the flow of asylum seekers, the government says it may give Indonesia up to five patrol boats. Many illegal migrants set sail for Australia from Indonesia.

Australian officials now are in Jakarta, discussing ways to combat people smuggling out of Indonesia.