The Immigration Department says it is working to contain a “major disturbance” at the Christmas Island Detention Centre following the death of an escaped detainee at the weekend.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed on Sky News on Monday afternoon that detainees had sparked “spot fires” at the facility in the wake of the death of Iranian Kurdish asylum seeker, Fazel Chegeni, whose body was found on Sunday.
Mr Dutton also said negotiations were ongoing and that there seemed to be “some sort of stand off” between security and detainees.
“We’ll wait for a review from the centre staff before beefing up security,” he said.
Christmas Island Shire president Gordon Thomson believed the detainee had “been driven to his death by his detention”.
“He sadly jumped the fence and ran through the dark and fell into a pit and died from his injuries,” Mr Thomson told AAP.
“That’s speculation, but we shouldn’t be allowed to speculate. We should be told.
Control of the centre was lost and guards had left, one detainee told the ABC on Monday morning, while another, Slovak man Matej Cuperka, said rioters were “setting fires everywhere”.
But, Border Force Commissioner, Roman Quaedvlieg, told Sky News on Monday afternoon the mood at the centre was “static” and there was “no actual rioting”.
Initial assessment had found “damage to the common areas”, but the buildings were intact.
He said detainees were “understandably distressed” following the death Mr Chegeni.
“It started with the Iranian cohort understandably distressed at the death of the of the escapee over the weekend, but opportunists used the situation to foment restiveness,” he said.
“Damage has been reported but extent unknown until we can fully assess.”
Earlier, during Parliament’s Question Time, Mr Dutton said there had been “no suspicious circumstances in relation to the death on Christmas Island”.
Meanwhile, New Zealand detainee Ricky Downs told Auckland’s TVNZ early on Monday that the centre’s canteen had been smashed to pieces and guards had abandoned their posts.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed a “disturbance in progress” at the centre had resulted in “damage inside the centre [but] its perimeter remains secure”.
‘Safety deteriorate’: Greens Senator
Speaking to ABC News24, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said safety inside the centre had deteriorated and people were “distressed”.
“This has been brewing for quite some time,” she said.
“The reports that I’ve been given from people inside the facility is that there are no guards inside, that they’ve left the centre.
“I imagine they’ve left and locked the gates so that it would be secure, people can’t get out but obviously there’s nobody, no officers or guards inside the centre… there’s many reports of fires.”
It came days after the death of a man, believed to be Iranian Kurdish asylum seeker Fazel Chegeni, who was reported missing on Friday, according to the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC).
Search and rescue teams later found the man’s body at the base of island cliffs away from the detention centre. Enquiries continue.
Mr Cuperka said the rioters were angry at the Mr Chegeni’s death and believed officers “did something to him”.
“I clearly heard him in the morning screaming for help, and the next thing I see they’re bringing him in a body bag, and after that the whole place went into lockdown,” he said.
Before Monday, Border Force staff had said the situation in the centre remained calm despite the incident.
The Australian Federal Police said on Sunday: “The AFP has commenced an investigation into the discovery of a deceased adult male found on Christmas Island today.”
The RAC said Mr Chegeni had been on Christmas Island for 10 weeks and had arrived in Australia in 2011.
“He had been found to be a refugee when he was in Curtin detention centre, around two and half years ago,” an RAC statement said.
“[He] had served time in prison following a fight between detainees at the detention centre. He was detained in Melbourne detention centre after his release from prison, a year ago.”
– with AAP, ABC