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The BBC's Red Harrison in Sydney
"Many face detention for a year or more"
 real 28k

Philip Ruddock, Australian Immigration Minister
"They are not holiday camps but they are not jails"
 real 28k

Margaret Piper, Refugee Council of Australia
"They have arrived without permission in this country because there was no way they could get permission"
 real 28k

Monday, 28 August, 2000, 10:19 GMT 11:19 UK
Australian police battle immigrants
Smoke billowing from Woomera centre
The rioters set buildings ablaze at the Woomera centre
At least 13 security guards have been injured in a riot by illegal immigrants at a detention centre in Australia.

Australian police fired water cannon and tear gas to try to quell the rampage by about 80 immigrants, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, who are facing deportation.


We will not succumb to any pressure in relation to people who have no entitlement to be released into the Australian community

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
The rioters at the centre in Woomera, in the remote outback of South Australia, set four buildings ablaze, smashed furniture and hurled stones at the security guards.

They also demolished sections of the perimeter fences and fashioned makeshift spears from fence posts.

There were no reports of injuries to the rioters, nor of any escapes by the detainees.

Reinforcements

Extra police and security guards were rushed to the Woomera detention centre, formerly a rocket range, where about 800 illegal immigrants are being held. It lies 475 km (295 miles) north of Adelaide.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the rioters were armed with sling-shots and pulled up fence pickets "with a view to making spears with which to put at risk the lives and the safety of personnel".

Woomera centre/immigrants
Australia's detention centres are full to bursting point

The detainees are among nearly 9,000 people who have arrived illegally in Australia, mostly by small boats, over the past two years.

Many face detention for a year or more while authorities determine whether they are genuine refugees.

The influx has left the country's six detention centres, with capacity to house 3,600 illegal immigrants, full to overflowing, and resulted in regular protests.

The Woomera rampage followed a weekend of mostly peaceful protests at five of the country's detention centres.

Escape attempt

Mr Ruddock said the authorities "will not succumb to any pressure in relation to people who have no entitlement to be released into the Australian community".

An eyewitness, Woomera petrol station operator David Kirby, said an attempt by about 100 rioters to escape through the razor wire had been foiled by water cannon.

"It blows them away from the fence and they get back up again and come charging in. It seems to be an ongoing battle," he was quoted as saying.

In June about 700 people joined a mass breakout at detention centres across the country in a protest about conditions in the camps and the length of time it was taking for their applications to be processed.

Influx

In the past two years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of illegal immigrants reaching Australia by boat, particularly from the Middle East.

Government figures show almost 7,900 unauthorised people arrived in Australia by boat in 1998/1999, mostly from China and the Middle East.

Australia's treatment of illegal immigrants has been subject to international criticism.

But all the main political parties back detention, reflecting a broader concern in Australia that illegal immigration is a real and growing problem.

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See also:

12 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australia wins support against migrants
15 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Sharks used to deter immigrants
10 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australian immigrants back in detention
18 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Australians seize Iraqi 'illegals'
07 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
Boat people stitch up lips
12 Aug 99 | Americas
The deadly trade of human smuggling
23 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Australia cracks down on people smuggling
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