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Monday, 22 January, 2001, 13:00 GMT
Immigrants riot in Australian camp
Australian detention cam
Some immigrants spend years in the camps
Scores of illegal immigrants, armed with bricks and iron bars, have fought a battle with police at a detention centre in north-west Australia.

Police fired pepper spray to restore order after more than 180 detainees, mostly from the Middle East, managed briefly to take over the Port Hedland centre.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock blamed the fighting on the same group behind September's violence at Woomera detention centre, in southern Australia, in which 13 staff were hurt and millions of dollars of damage was done.

Human rights organisations have strongly criticised the grim conditions in the camps where some people are held for years.

The government said the ringleaders of the latest disturbances would face criminal charges.

Reports said an officer wearing riot gear suffered concussion after a brick struck his helmet and two staff members were slightly injured.

Pepper spray

Police spokesman Inspector Bill Todd said detainees hurled shovels, chairs, iron bars and bricks when officers arrived at the centre.

Most of the rioters were moved into accommodation blocks, but 20 tried to barricade themselves in another room. They surrendered when police let off pepper spray.

Mr Ruddock said longer term detainees from Woomera had recently been moved to Port Hedland to make way for new arrivals.

"Our view was that it was inappropriate for them to remain with a new group coming in," he added.

Violence is increasing in Australia's detention camps where all asylum seekers are placed automatically if they enter the country illegally.

Criminal gangs

Mr Ruddock has just returned from the Middle East where he was seeking help in discouraging illegal immigrants from coming to Australia.

Every year, thousands of illegal immigrants from Asia and the Middle East try to slip into Australia.

Many of them are smuggled in by criminal gangs on dangerous, rickety boats.

Reports say there has been a big increase recently in arrivals from the Middle East.

Police forces believe most travel via Malaysia to the Indonesian province of Java where they take small boats to Australia's north-west coast.

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See also:

27 Sep 00 | Africa
Australia 'worse than Somalia'
09 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Another immigrant breakout in Australia
18 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australians seize Iraqi 'illegals'
07 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Boat people stitch up lips
23 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Australia cracks down on people smuggling
12 Aug 99 | Americas
The deadly trade of human smuggling
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