'Riot' at Christmas Island migrant camp as detainee dies

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Australian immigration officials say a "disturbance" is taking place at a detention centre for immigrants on Christmas Island.

The trouble was reported early on Monday, a day after the body of a man who escaped from the centre was found near cliffs.

One man being held at the centre told New Zealand's TVNZ that guards had abandoned the centre after "riots".

Australia's Department of Immigration said there were reports of damage.

But it said in a statement that the perimeter of the centre remained secure and there were no reports of injuries.

Australia sends asylum seekers to Christmas Island, a remote outpost 2,650km (1,650 miles) north-west of Perth and 380km south of Java in Indonesia.

They are also sent to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the South Pacific.

The Christmas Island centre also houses New Zealanders facing deportation. The number of New Zealanders in the centre has increased since Canberra began cancelling visas of those with criminal records.

Media in New Zealand said the man who escaped on Saturday was an Iranian Kurd named Fazel Chegeni.

His body was found a day later, Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection said. The death is now being investigated.

"Like so many others, Fazel was suffering the effects of long-term arbitrary detention," Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition group, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"He had told other detainees that he could no longer stand being in detention and just wanted 'to go outside'."

Guards 'freaked out'

Kelvin Davis, an MP with New Zealand's opposition Labour party, visited the Christmas Island centre last month and remains in contact with people there.

"A detainee was asking a guard how that person died and got punched in the face for his efforts and that's what's really set things off," he told Radio NZ.

One detainee, Ricky Downs, told TVNZ the guards "freaked out and left".

"There are fires everywhere, holes in the wall and the canteen has been smashed to pieces," he said.

The immigration department said it was working to "restore the good order of the centre".

Map of Australia and Indonesia highlighting Christmas Island - November 2015

The government says the journey the asylum seekers make is dangerous and controlled by criminal gangs and they have a duty to stop it. Critics say opposition to asylum is often racially motivated and is damaging Australia's reputation.

Its policy was branded a "disaster" by Human Rights Watch's Australia director in July. The group also raised concern over conditions at the Manus camp.

Last February, an Iranian man was killed during a riot at the camp. The trial of a Salvation Army worker and a camp guard accused over his murder restarts later this month.



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