Doha, Qatar – A riot has erupted at a controversial offshore refugee-detention facility in Australia following the death of an asylum seeker.
Immigration officers and refugees confirmed on Monday a standoff between detainees and officers at the detention camp on Christmas Island, located more than 2,000km northwest of Perth in the Indian Ocean, after a Kurdish Iranian refugee died there.
Fazel Chegeni, in his 30s, was reportedly found at the bottom of a cliff.
“On Saturday morning [November 7] the department was advised of the escape of an illegal maritime arrival from Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre [CI IDC] by service provider staff.
“The matter was referred to the Australian Federal Police who commenced a search and discovered a deceased person today [November 8],” the Australian government said in a news release.
The Department of Immigration said staff and security have been withdrawn for security purposes and denied a large scale riot was taking place.
“The protest action began when a small group of Iranian detainees took part in a peaceful protest following the escape from, and death outside the centre, of a detainee on Sunday,” its news release said.
Currently, there are about 285 asylum-seekers at the Christmas Island camp. Section 501 of Australia’s Migration Act permits the deportation of a non-Australian citizen who fails the “character test”, the portal for which includes any prison sentence longer than 12 months.
A member of RISE, a rights group campaigning for refugee rights in Melbourne, said refugees heard the Iranian man screaming for help, then later saw him in a body bag.
“The detention centre detains asylum-seekers under administrative detention methods, just like Guantanamo and just like Palestinian prisoners in Israel,” she told Al Jazeera over the phone.
“These cases cannot be taken to court and the refugee him or herself sometimes does not know what they are doing there.
“They could claim they are investigating the asylum seeker, but in the end it is punishment.
“Those who arrive by boat are not allowed to have mobile phones with them, but those who arrive by plane are.
“And if they manage to sneak in mobile phones, security does random checks where they take them away.
“Between 2010 and 2011, there were five deaths in eight months in a detention centre in the suburbs of Sydney.
“Two detention centres were destroyed following that.
“The government does not learn from its past experiences.”
Last week, human teeth were found in a meal served to an asylum seeker in the Manus Island detention centre, just a few days after almost 100 asylum seekers reportedly suffered from food poisoning.
Speaking to Al Jazeera over phone on Saturday, Ian Rintoul, an Australian refugee advocate who is in touch with asylum-seekers on the island, said asylum seekers managed to call activists and inform them human teeth were found in a lunch meal served to a refugee.
The Australian government’s Department of Immigration announced on Twitter that it is investigating the reports.
“A few days ago over 100 asylum-seekers and staff members were poisoned from the food at the Manus detention centre,” Rintoul said.
“There has been constant problems with the food there. Refugees have complained about the quality of the food such as the smell from the meat provided.
“Refugees have also found flies and insects in their food several times.
“There are constant problems in these detention centres. Water is one of them. The sewage goes out to the bay and, if it rains, it washes up on the compound.
“The toilets are mostly non-functional too.”
Rintoul said asylum-seekers find ways to contact refugee advocates and inform them of these issues, but of late attacks and raids on the centres have been mounted to confiscate the refugees’ phones.
“Nothing will change. The problems are created by the detention centres themselves,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Tensions have not been resolved since Reza Barati was killed in 2014. The Australian government has embarked on a brutal system.”
Sarah Hanson-Young, an Australian Greens senator for South Australia, who has been to the Manus camp, told Al Jazeera that conditions at the detention centres are appalling.
“The hygiene and safety standards in the Manus and Nauru camps are profoundly subpar,” she said.
“The Nauru camp is built in the middle of a disused phosphate mine and, as though that wasn’t bad enough, multiple unexploded World War II munitions have been found buried in the family compound.
“More people have died inside the Manus camp than have been resettled in PNG [Papua New Guinea]. One of those who passed away was Hamid Kehazaei, who died after a small cut to his foot became septic.”