Australian government threatens to revoke rioting refugees' visas
Unlikely that they'll have the balls to follow through with the threat, though
THE Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, has warned that 200 asylum seekers involved in violent protests on Christmas Island may have their visas revoked or blocked on character grounds, even if it had already been found they were genuine refugees.
The tough line came as another 70 Australian Federal Police officers were dispatched to the remote island, bringing total police numbers to 188, after two administration buildings and seven tents were burnt down in angry clashes.
The main detention centre is now under the control of police, who were yesterday unable to conduct a headcount and were unsure how many detainees remained at large on Christmas Island. Hundreds of detainees not involved in the violence were expected to be housed in the island's recreation hall, and the Phosphate Hill family detention centre.
Mr Bowen said the situation was "challenging" and condemned the "violent and unacceptable behaviour by an organised group" on Thursday night.
Accelerants, bricks, pavers, concrete, poles and a wheelie bin full of rocks were used by about 200 detainees, wearing cloth over their faces to avoid tear-gas, who advanced on police, the AFP deputy commissioner of national security, Steve Lancaster, said. Another 300 detainees and staff had sought refuge in the gym, but the gym was then attacked by the protesters with rocks, Mr Lancaster said. Police used tear-gas and a "higher volume" of beanbag bullets to restore order, he said.
Mr Bowen said: "Character considerations will be taken into account for those on Christmas Island who have organised and perpetrated this sort of activity." He said the majority of the centre's 1850 detainees were not involved.
After a week of escalating clashes, Mr Bowen said an independent review into security breaches, staffing adequacy and the appropriateness of centre's management company, Serco, and the department's response, will be headed by a former secretary of the Defence Department, Allan Hawke, and a public servant, Helen Williams. The police use of beanbag bullets and tear-gas, will be subject to a separate AFP investigation and the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
The opposition's immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, said the protesters should have their visa applications suspended. "Those acting up should go to the back of the line," he said.
The Immigration Department is seeking to contact the family of a 20-year-old Afghan man found dead at the Scherger detention centre in Queensland. Protests had also broken out during the week at the Darwin and Curtin detention centres.
The chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia, Paul Power, said a circuit-breaker was needed, and the unrest "had unfortunately been predicted" amid long processing delays for visas. He was concerned at Mr Bowen's threat that visas may be rejected on character grounds. "We don't know what crimes have been committed and who they have been committed by … many hundreds weren't involved," he said.
A letter was given to all detainees on Thursday that promised security checks would be sped up, and all ASIO checks would be completed by the end of April. The letter said reviewers would be sent to Christmas Island next week to assess rejected claims - only if calm was restored.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it did not condone the use of violence by asylum seekers, but "remains deeply concerned by the underlying impact of mandatory detention on the psycho-social health and welfare of the many people being held for prolonged periods in isolated parts of Australia".
A refugee advocate, Pamela Curr, said the protests had been sparked by a decision by Serco to lock down roller doors between different parts of the centre last Friday to prevent movement because of a lack of staff.