Australia prime minister Julia Gillard warned refugees at Sydney’s Villawood that their claims could be affected if they riot:
“Violence doesn’t get anyone anywhere,” Gillard said in the wake of violent riots overnight at the centrein which nine buildings were torched and rescue workers attacked by aggrieved detainees.
The protest at Villawood was continuing today, with seven detainees on
the roof of a building with a large banner that reads: “We need help”.
The Gillard government said the unrest was caused by detainees whose asylum claims had been rejected, while the Coalition accused Labor of letting the detention network spiral out of control.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said today the independent inquiry into last month’s riots on Christmas Island would be expanded to incorporate the incident at Villawood overnight.
He said there would also be an Australian Federal Police investigation into the incident.
The Coalition has ramped up the pressure on the government, demanding more punitive and decisive punishments for those involved including the suspension of their asylum claims.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott said detainees involved in criminal
behaviour should be denied permanent residency and urged the government
to take a tougher stance.
“This is criminal conduct and the normal immigration rules specify that
people who are guilty of criminal conduct don’t get permanent
residency,” he said.
But Mr Bowen said today that the ringleaders of the protest had already received negative assessments.
“These are by-and-large, I’m advised, people who have received negative refugee assessments,” he said.
“So this is not a matter of timing, of people protesting that they have not received enough (of a) speedy response to their claims.”
“These are people in many instances who are not happy that they have not been accepted as refugees.”
Mr Bowen could place no dollar figure on the damage sustained at the centre, but described it as “substantial”.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said he was concerned that state police and fire services were prevented from taking immediate action to take control of the incident.
“There are reports this morning that state police and others were held back from the scene,” Mr Morrison said.
“Now that is very concerning, in that this is Commonwealth land and we had state police and fire services waiting while fires were burning.
“They need clearly instructions and rules to enable them to protect public safety in these situations.”