|Asylum-seekers set fire to the detention centre after authorities denied some of their requests for refuge [Reuters]
Asylum seekers have torched nine buildings at a Sydney detention centre in a night of wild riots with a handful of protesters remaining on rooftops on Thursday as police worked to regain control.
The riots kicked off late on Wednesday at the Villawood Detention Centre with an estimated 100 detainees involved at the height of the drama.
Protesters set an oxygen cylinder alight, which led to an explosion, and nine buildings, including a medical centre and dining hall, were gutted by fire. Firefighters brought the blaze under control early on Thursday and no one was injured.
Around 400 people are held at Villawood. Many of them are asylum seekers, but the facility also houses people who have overstayed their visas.
On Thursday, seven detainees remained on the roof of one of the complex's buildings, next to a large sign that read: "We need help."
Immigration department spokesman Sandi Logan said he could not confirm reports the men were protesting because their visa applications had been rejected.
“But any suggestion that they're not being informed of the progress of their claim is nonsense. ... I don't know the motivation,” Logan said. “But it's clearly not going to help, in terms of endearing their settlement in Australia.”
Those still on the roof reportedly want a meeting with the immigration department, but Logan told reporters this would not happen.
"Until they come down, we won't be negotiating, but we are working and managing to get them down from the roof," he said.
Criminal charges could be filed against the rioters, some of whom threw roof tiles and pieces of furniture at officials trying to get the blaze under control, Logan said.
“This is obviously unacceptable behavior that will have to be investigated,” Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan said.
The protest started with just two inmates, apparently upset at the immigration department denying their applications for visas to remain in Australia.
Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers while their claims are processed, and generally holds detainees on remote Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.
But the increasing number of people arriving by boat has seen mainland centres also being used, including Villawood, which houses about 400 people.
Last month the Christmas Island facility endured days of riots, with about 250 inmates setting fire to accommodation tents and hurling makeshift explosives at police, prompting them to respond with tear gas.