Another Asylum Seeker Detention Center Struck by Apparent Arson Attack
Another of Australia's asylum seeker detention centers was hit by an apparent arson attack overnight, firefighters said Tuesday. It was the latest in a string of deliberately lit fires in the controversial camps.
The fire at Woomera in central Australia destroyed two accommodation blocks, five toilet blocks and two mess halls on Tuesday, the Department of Immigration said in a statement.
Firefighters said it appeared to have been deliberately lit.
The blaze followed arson attacks by asylum seekers being held at the Port Hedland detention center in Western Australia and at the new Baxter center in South Australia state.
On Monday, a guard at a center in the Western Australia state capital of Perth was injured while trying to quell a riot by about 20 asylum seekers.
The total damage bill from the fires is nearly $4 million.
Refugee advocate Marion Le said Tuesday the arson attacks were the actions of a small number of desperate refugees some of whom have been held in the remote and Spartan camps for years rather than an orchestrated campaign.
Le, from the Independent Council for Refugee Advocacy, added that soaring Southern Hemisphere summer temperatures, which can be over 104 degrees, were also partly to blame.
"It is so hot so tempers fray as we know just among the rest of us out in the community," she said. "But certainly in that kind of environment, people are on a very, very short leash indeed."
On Monday, rights activists said the Australian government's policy of holding asylum seekers in prison-like detention centers was to blame for the arson.
Some 1,200 illegal immigrants, most from the Middle East and South Asia, are being held in the camps while their applications for asylum are considered or while they wait to be sent home.
In the most serious of the recent fires, nearly 20 rooms were destroyed at the Baxter detention center in South Australia state early Sunday morning when inmates apparently set bedding, furniture and shower curtains alight. No injuries were reported.
"I'm delighted that it's burning and I hope it burns right to the ground," said Jack Smit, a spokesman for refugee group Project SafeCom Inc. "Baxter is designed as a ... government fortress and as a maximum security prison, and it inflicts permanent damage to the psyche of children as well as adults."
Australia's seven detention centers have been plagued by riots, fires and acts of self-mutilation by inmates, drawing international criticism of the nation's immigration policies.
Australian Attorney General described the blazes as "an appalling waste of taxpayers money" that also put lives at risk.
"If the people responsible for lighting fires believe this will assist them in coercing the government to let them stay in Australia, they are wrong," he said. "It can only count against them."