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Detention Facilities Burned To The Ground On Christmas Island And No One Is In Charge

Reports say detainees are trashing the detention centre, but authorities are yet to re-enter the compound to regain control.

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Rioting detainees are continuing to destroy property inside the Christmas Island detention centres, BuzzFeed News understands.

Scott Fisher / Getty Images

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has issued a statement denying that a riot is taking place inside the centre and instead referring to the events as a "major disturbance".

"There is currently no large scale 'riot' involving the majority of the centre's population ... but the centre remains tense and staff have been withdrawn from compounds for safety reasons," the statement reads.

The department did acknowledge there had been damage to medical, educational, and sporting facilities and there had been a "number of small fires".

Immigration minister Peter Dutton told Sky News that one detainee has been given medical attention, and that otherwise no staff or detainees have been reported injured.

A New Zealand detainee who was not involved in the violence has scoffed at the idea that it's not being classified as a riot.

Scott Fisher / Getty Images

"That's bullshit," he said over the phone to BuzzFeed News.

"People are still going around trashing shit."

He said authorities had not stepped foot inside the centre since 9pm on Sunday night, and there had been no attempt to make contact with detainees.

"You can see the officers doing laps around the perimeter in their car," he said.

"They've [the rioting detainees] burnt out all the kitchens, the sprinklers are going off and there's shit everywhere.

"I'm looking outside and there's a golf buggy that's been absolutely trashed, all the canteens are burnt out, there's rubbish everywhere, and all the hoses have been turned on."

He's worried about repercussions because there's talk inside the centre of the riot squad coming in with rubber bullets. He's hoping the situation is resolved soon because he hasn't eaten and there is no food inside the centre, as it is kept elsewhere in the facility.

Dutton said the priority at this stage is to "restore order and limit the danger to Commonwealth property".

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

He described the people involved in the riot as "people classified as medium to high risk".

"In many cases they would be awaiting deportation because their visas had been cancelled because they failed the character test or have engaged in serious criminal activity," he said, "so that's the sort of population we're dealing with."

This would include people who committed a crime while on a bridging visa or in detention, as well as people who have served time in prison and are awaiting deportation.

The Refugee Action Coalition has rejected the idea from the government that people involved in the riots are "hardened criminals".

"You certainly couldn't classify the Iranian asylum-seekers in that way; as for the 501s, there's a variety of offences committed, but they've done their time," spokesperson Ian Rintoul told BuzzFeed News.

"Trying to create the idea that everyone there is just the worst of the worst isn't right."

"The 501s" refers to the group of detainees who were sent to detention centres because they are non-citizens who have been sentenced to more than one year in prison.

Under amendments to section 501 of the Migration Act, the government has the power to cancel their visas and kick them out of the country.

Labor's immigration spokesperson, Richard Marles, told Sky News that Labor would be more open about the situation than the government has been, and called on the government to assure the public that "steps are being taken to ensure that people are being kept as safe as they can be".

Fights broke out on Sunday night when detainees heard about the death of Iranian Kurdish refugee Fazel Chegeni, who had escaped from the centre.

Refugee Action Coalition / PR IMAGE

There are conflicting stories about the circumstances of his death.

Border Force reported this morning that search-and-rescue teams found his body at the bottom of island cliffs far away from the centre, but detainees insist they heard him screaming for help near the fence of the detention centre.

A coronial inquest will be held to determine the cause of his death.

Meanwhile, some detainees are packing their bags, certain that they will be moved out once authorities gain control.

"They can't house anyone here," the detainee said. "All the kitchens are trashed in the compound, all the windows are busted out.

"We can't stay here any longer because there's no facilities, it's just a fuckin' mess."

Dutton has suggested that people will be moved to other compounds within the centre once order is restored.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at

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