Riots at Christmas Island detention center after escaped refugee dies

The Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre is one of numerous facilities Australia uses to detain asylum seekers while their refugee claims are processed.

Story highlights

  • Riots have broken out at the Christmas Island detention center
  • The violence followed news of the death of an escaped asylum seeker
  • Australian government says it is working to "assess and resolve the situation"

(CNN)Riots have broken out among detainees in an Australian immigration detention center on Christmas Island following the death of an Iranian refugee who escaped from the facility.

A statement by the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection confirmed the "major disturbance," although they denied that there was a "large scale 'riot'," and said it is working with its service providers "to assess and resolve the situation."
    Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) in Australia who has been in contact with refugees at the facility, said the rioting started Sunday night after detainees were informed that the escaped refugee -- who he named as Fazel Chegeni -- had been found dead "in the jungle."
    Fazel Chegeni, an Iranian refugee in his early 30s was found dead at the bottom of a cliff on Christmas Island, Australian officials said.
    He said although there was no information or evidence to suggest that anyone had been involved in the death, the detainees immediately became suspicious of the involvement of guards from the center's management company, Serco.
    "The guards abandoned the detention center at 11 p.m. last night and there are presently no guards manning the center at all," he added. "The refugees are now expecting the inevitable, which is either the arrival of the Australian Federal Police or the armed Serco Emergency Response Team."
    Significant damage has been reported at the camp, including a number of small fires and smashed walls and fences, although Rintoul said there had been no major damage to the accommodation blocks. Australia's Immigration Department said that the guards had been withdrawn from the compound for "safety reasons" but that the camp's perimeter had not been breached.
    A photo of the Christmas Island Detention Centre, taken in 2013

    Investigation underway

    Fazel Chegeni was an Iranian Kurdish refugee aged in his early thirties who arrived in Australia in 2010 seeking asylum, according to the RAC.
    Australian officials declined to confirm his name as they say the investigation is ongoing. However, they previously released a statement saying the body of an escapee had been found at the bottom of cliffs on the island by an Australian Federal Police search and rescue team who were looking for him.
    The Department said the cause of death was unknown and is now the subject of a coronial inquiry. Rintoul said that his organization had also been instructed by Chegeni's family to seek an independent autopsy.
    Described by Rintoul as a "gentle, tortured soul," Chegeni had reportedly been tortured in Iran and had a well-known history of mental illness, including three previous suicide attempts on Australian soil.
    Although Chegeni's refugee status had been confirmed by the Australian government two and a half years ago, he remained in detention pending successful application to the country's immigration minister for a protection visa to allow him to live in the community.
    "Fazel's tortured history and his repeated suicide attempts speak to the fact that he should not have been on Christmas Island and subjected to the treatment he has received," said Rintoul.

    Australian border protection