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More riots at Australian detention camp

fire-damaged building
So far 18 buildings have been destroyed or damaged by fire at Woomera in the past two days  

By Grant Holloway

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Authorities have used water cannons and tear gas to quell a second night of rioting at Australia's Woomera detention center with detainees again setting fire to buildings, attacking security staff and damaging a perimeter fence.

The center -- which imprisons around 950 illegal immigrants in a desert town in South Australia -- is now on high alert as Australian federal police begin an investigation into the cause of the incidents.

More than $1 million worth of damage has been inflicted at Woomera during eight incidents over the past month.

While there have been no serious injuries reported, four detention center staff were treated for minor wounds on Tuesday after inmates began hurling stones at them.

Security officers also required treatment for smoke inhalation on Monday night.

Staff at the center were again evacuated during the disturbances, but morning reports from the area say the prison now seems calm. Asia
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Australia's attorney-general and acting immigration minister Daryl Williams said Wednesday the detainees were conducting a "criminal campaign" aimed at pressuring the government to grant them visas.

Australia has a policy of compulsory detention for all illegal arrivals on Australian shores while claims for asylum or refugee status are assessed.

Williams told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the riots and arson would have no impact on government policy at Woomera.

"People who come here unlawfully will be detained," he said.

"Those who have their application for refugee status being processed will be detained.

"Those whose applications fail will continue to be detained until they're deported."

Williams suggested the disturbances at Woomera could be being instigated by detainees who have failed to gain a visa and are likely to be deported.

Illegal immigrants from countries where Australia has no diplomatic relationship, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, can be held in the camps indefinitely however.

Global humans rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday again attacked the Australian government over its detention policy and called for the government to investigate alternatives.

"Australia's policy of arbitrary and prolonged detention of asylum seekers violates its obligations to act in the best interests of the child under many international treaties which bind Australia,"Amnesty Australia's refugee team coordinator, Stuart Webb, said in a statement.

"Under the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, children and their families should be detained for the shortest time necessary.

"In Australia, detaining children who arrive without visas is a first resort and that detention can last up to several years," Webb said.

The Woomera facility has been plagued by riots, fires and breakouts  

Webb said being held in a detention centre for a number of years, without any indication of when a person could be released, could do psychological and physical damage.

Amnesty Australia is this week distributing Christmas gifts to the 580 children in Australia's detention centers.

In total almost 3,000 men, women and children are currently detained in camps on the Australian mainland while more than 1,200 others are in camps on the remote territory of Christmas Island, the Pacific nation of Nauru and in Papua New Guinea.

The latest violent incidents cap a series of uprisings, demonstrations and escapes that have plagued Australia's camps in the past two years.

Earlier this year, an Australian prison watchdog described conditions in the detention centers as being "unacceptably overcrowded" and said the conditions in them were directly contributing to the unrest.

And Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is currently conducting a probe into the treatment of children in the camps.

Most of the inmates in Australia's camps have fled humanitarian catastrophes in the Middle East and South and Central Asia, coming to Australia from Indonesia on boats organized by smuggling gangs.


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