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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 07:23 GMT 08:23 UK
Australia immigrants riot in camp
Boat people are among the illegal immigrants Australia wants to deter
Illegal immigrants have drowned in the crossing
A violent demonstration has broken out in one of Australia's detention camps for illegal immigrants.

Staff at the Curtin centre in Western Australia fired tear gas as about 200 detainees smashed furniture and set fire to buildings.

There is no question of things calming down

Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Collective
One officer had a chair broken across his back but there were no serious injuries, according to officials.

Detention centre staff persuaded the rioters to return to their living quarters after about two hours.

Australia's Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, said on Thursday he would introduce tough new penalties against people in detention camps who break the law.

They will include prison terms of up to five years for would-be refugees who escape from the camps.

No hope

Last Thursday, about 40 detainees at the Curtin centre used makeshift weapons against staff in protest against three other detainees being sent back to the Middle East.

That riot ended peacefully when the detainees returned voluntarily to their living quarters.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
Philip Ruddock: Tougher penalties
The Refugee Action Collective, a detainees' support group, said the rioting was in protest against long-term detention of people seeking to immigrate to Australia - and that further demonstrations could be expected.

"There is no question of things calming down," said Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the collective.

The Curtin centre houses about 850 detainees, mostly from the Middle East.

Wednesday's riot was the latest outbreak of violence in the chain of centres used to house hundreds of illegal immigrants caught trying to get into Australia.

No compromise

Critics have described the centres, many located in remote rural locations, as places where inhumane conditions and brutality are the norm.

Critics say conditions in the centres are inhumane
But Mr Ruddock said the protests would not sway the conservative government from its policy of considering each refugee case on its merits.

"There seems to be a view among some people that if you behave inappropriately it could well sustain an argument that you're sufficiently desperate to require some special concession that allows you to remain here," he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio on Thursday.

"We will not compromise our standards. The standards already lead to a significantly larger proportion of people being granted refugee status in Australia than occurs elsewhere."

Thousands of illegal immigrants try to get into Australia every year, many of them on boats run by Asian smuggling gangs.

Some of the boats have sunk during the voyage, with the loss of all aboard.

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See also:

05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's detention camps criticised
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
22 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Immigrants riot in Australian camp
12 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Boost for anti-immigrant party
13 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Migrants missing in Australian seas
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