More fires sweep Australian asylum camps

30.Dec.02,  first published by read the original article here.

A spate of arson attacks at Australia's newest detention center for asylum seekers in recent days has spread to a second camp hundreds of kilometers away where firefighters spent the night battling a blaze.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department which runs Australia's seven mainland detention centers said officials believe the latest fire at the Port Hedland detention center in Western Australia state was a deliberate act.

Pete Pederson said the fire which had burnt throughout Sunday night and early Monday morning had cut power to the camp's administration block. No detainees were injured but some staff were treated for minor smoke inhalation.

Early Sunday morning bedding, furniture and shower curtains were torched in three separate parts of a single men's compound at the Baxter detention center in South Australia state, destroying nearly 20 rooms and causing damage estimated at $1.25 million (Aust. $2.25 million).

Baxter is the newest detention center in mainland Australia and is the only one purpose built for the task. It has a capacity to accommodate up to 1,200 people but currently holds 215 detainees comprising 146 men, 28 women and 41 children.

Nine detainees and two staff members were treated at a hospital for smoke inhalation and 47 detainees were moved to another compound which was also then set alight.

Detainees at Baxter center on Friday used mattresses and newspapers to light three separate fires that caused minor damage.

Refugee advocates say the fires are protests over harsh conditions at the camps.

"They probably did it out of pure frustration," said Marion Le from the Independent Council for Refugee Advocacy.

The last three years have seen riots, arson and self-mutilation by detainees, drawing widespread criticism of Australia's treatment of asylum seekers. Some camps consist of temporary buildings surrounded by razor wire in remote desert areas.

Australia's immigration policies have been widely condemned by human rights groups and the United Nations. Investigations

Some detainees who have been refused refugee visas but cannot be returned to their own countries have languished in the camps for more than three years.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Sunday that the fires would not change the government's policies, but only lead to the punishment of those involved.

"If this is a deliberate act of sabotage, then those who are responsible for it should face the full force of the law," he said.

Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said six police officers and a forensics examiner had been sent to Baxter to investigate the blazes.

"There are people being questioned now," he told reporters in Canberra.

Pederson said federal police would also be sent to the Port Hedland camp.