Demonstrators and police clashed Sunday outside Australia's biggest immigration detention center at Woomera, where demonstrators set up camp to protest the government's strict asylum policy. On Friday, around 1,000 activists stormed the compound, after tearing down perimeter fencing. Fifty detainees escaped, and 10 are still at large.
Australia's immigration minister, Philip Ruddock, has criticized the police for failing to prevent Friday's break-out. Sunday, hundreds again marched down the main road into the compound. This time, the police were ready. Riot squads were backed up by officers on horseback, who stopped the crowd reaching the internal fences. There was a tense stand-off, during which there were a number of minor scuffles. Seven protesters were arrested, bringing the weekend total to almost 30. Behind the razor-wire barriers, dozens of detainees shouted and waved.
Ten of those involved in Friday's mass escape are still on the run. The police fear some may be lost in the South Australian desert, and may be running out of food and water. The protesters, however, claim a number of the escapees have made it to some of Australia's major cities, where they are being harbored by refugee sympathizers.
One man, a 20-year-old from Afghanistan, took part in the mass break-out. He said his application for refugee status has been rejected by the Australian government. He said he would rather die than go back inside Woomera. "I cannot go back inside the camp," he pleaded. "If [an] officer kill me, if police kill me, good, but don't send me in camp."
The demonstrators here have come from around the country to voice their opposition to Australia's mandatory detention of asylum seekers. But the government is unbending, insisting mandatory detention is needed to sort out which asylum claims are legitimate.