SYDNEY, March 14, 2011 (AFP) – Australian police used tear gas to quell a protest of 300 asylum seekers on remote Christmas Island on Monday, as the government warned of a tense mood within the under-pressure detention centre. More than 6,500 refugees — mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka — arrived in Australia last year on boats from Indonesia, crowding centres to capacity and inflaming debate on Canberra’s tough mandatory detention policy. The “significant and serious incident” follows days of tensions on the island which is housing some 2,539 boat people awaiting the processing of their applications to stay in the country, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said.
Bowen said that Australian Federal Police decided to use the tear gas after hours of protests from late Sunday which resulted in damage to some facilities, including fencing, accommodation and door locks.
“They were concerned that the, at 3.37 am this morning, that the particular protest action had the capacity to turn more violent and they took the decision on the ground as an operational matter that that was the appropriate response,” Bowen told reporters in Sydney.
Some 70 people broke out of the detention centre on Friday, and a further