Australia to scale down riot-hit immigration camp

SYDNEY, March 21, 2011 (AFP) – Australia said Monday it would reduce the number of asylum seekers at an overcrowded detention centre on Christmas Island but would not abandon the camp which has endured days of riots and escapes. But Bowen said whatever their frustrations, violence was unacceptable. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government wanted fewer inmates at the purpose-built facility, which sits on a small Indian Ocean outcrop some 2,650 kilometres (1,650 miles) northwest of Perth, after the violence.

“As I’ve said previously, we do need to reduce the numbers on Christmas Island; I’ve been working towards that for some time,” Bowen told ABC television.

“But these recent events have necessitated the expedition of that.”

Riots broke out at the remote centre last week, with about 250 inmates setting fire to accommodation tents and hurling makeshift explosives at police, prompting them to respond with tear gas and “bean bag” bullets.

Scores of inmates also escaped the complex during the week, with some hiding in dense jungle for days and reportedly surviving on crabs, but Bowen said it appeared that they had now all returned to the centre.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detentio