Refugee advocates urge restraint as tear gas used on peaceful protest on Christmas Island

Refugee Action Coalition Media Release 17 March 2011 Following the use of tear gas and a bean bag round to break an asylum seeker’s leg on Sunday night, more evidence of heavy-handed policing on Christmas Island has emerged. Asylum seekers on Christmas Island have told the refugee Action Coalition that tear gas was used on a peaceful protest on Christmas Island last night (ie Wednesday night).A group of around 400 asylum seekers were walking in the open area of the detention centre in an attempt to speak to media representatives on the island. The asylum seekers were carrying white sheets and strips of toilet paper to show that they were peaceful. “We asked, ‘Please don’t shoot.’ ” They even had flowers to give to the police within the centre. The police said, “We cannot let you speak to the media. You must go back to your compounds.” After telling the protesters that police could help, when representatives of the asylum seekers met with the police, they were told again that they would not be allowed to speak with the media. The police ordered the asylum seekers to return to their compounds and then used tear gas to disperse the peaceful crowd.

“Twice now the police have launched attacks on peaceful protests inside the Christmas Island detention centre. It is not the asylum seekers who are out of control, it is Serco, the police and the Department of Immigration. The best thing that could be done to lift the tension in the detention centre is to free those being held in Red Compound and to remove the police from the centre. It’s time to take the tear gas and the shot guns off the police,” said Ian Rintoul.

“We are still waiting for the Minister to announce the terms of the inquiry into the use of tear gas and bean bag rounds, and to announce who is going to front that inquiry. Now there is another disgraceful incident to be investigated.”

“But without action to end the delays on processing visas, the protests will continue – in Christmas Island, Darwin, and other detention centres. We enthusiastically join the call from the Uniting Church to close Christmas Island,” said Rintoul.