The mass breakout of mainly Iranian and Iraqi men has left the centre’s security guards and Australian Federal Police officers scrambling to try and regain order. A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship told The Australian that a “disturbance” started around 10pm last night (2am AEDT) on the island, about 2600km northwest of Perth, Western Australia. He said at least 150 men broke out and 50 were now back inside the $400 million North West Point Detention Centre. He said there were no reports of injuries to either detainees or staff at the centre. Some of the male escapees reportedly walked up to 12km, and a number reached the island’s airport.
About 2000 single men are detained in the overcrowded centre, and there are 2539 asylum seekers across the island. People detained in other areas on the island did not escape, the department spokesman said.
Refugee advocate Jamal Daoud said an asylum seeker detained in Darwin, who was previously in detention on the island, told him that the escapees had slogans of “free us if you don’t need us, or send us to a third country”. Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said tension and frustration had been building in the detention centre because of delays in processing asylum claims. He said restrictions were placed on asylum-seeker movements between compounds in the centre yesterday. “The latest events on Christmas Island are just the latest indications that Christmas Island should be closed. The over-crowding, the lack of resources, the remoteness…make Christmas Island a particularly unsuitable place for asylum-seekers,” he said. “The delays in processing are unforgivable. There are refugees waiting for over 18 months for security clearances after they have been found to be refugees.”