Australia’s Christmas Island detention centre is in a “major disturbance”

Inmates have lit fires at Australia’s Christmas Island detention centre in a “major disturbance”, government officials said.

The unrest was sparked by the death of a detainee who had escaped the camp.

The situation was “tense” for a while, the department said, but was now calm.

Negotiations were continuing with those detainees protesting to resolve the situation “peacefully and as soon as possible”, the department said in a statement.

The perimeter remains secure and patrols are continuing, it said.

Christmas Island is located 2,650km (1,650 miles) north-west of Perth and 380km south of Java in Indonesia.

It is part of Australia’s network of offshore processing centres for irregular migrants who arrive by boat, and also houses New Zealanders facing deportation from Australia.

The Department of Immigration said the unrest started when a group of Iranian inmates staged a protest about the death of an Iranian Kurd, Fazel Chegeni.

Mr Chegeni had escaped from the facility on Saturday. His body was found at the bottom of a cliff on Sunday.

In an earlier statement, it said small fires had been lit within the complex and that some detainees “continue to agitate and cause damage to the facility”.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said officers from private contractor Serco, which operates the detention centre, would be “dealing with those people who have caused disturbances”.

“If people have caused damage to Commonwealth property, then they will be investigated and prosecuted,” Mr Dutton said.

In Parliament, he said he had been advised there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Chegeni.

He also told Australian television that the government will not be “cowered” into making changes to its controversial deportation policy.

Ian Rintoul, of the Refugee Action Coalition group, said that Mr Chegeni was “suffering the effects of long-term arbitrary detention”.

“He had told other detainees that he could no longer stand being in detention,” Mr Rintoul said in a statement.

A detainee at the immigration centre said that inmates were “angry” because they were not getting answers about Mr Chegeni’s death.

Matt said guards had left their posts and that detainees from a compound housing detainees with criminal records were trying to get into his compound, where asylum seekers and those with expired visas stay.

“They started setting up the fires which basically set off the fire alarms which opened the door to the entire complex,” he said.

“We barricaded ourselves, but we don’t know how long we will last. We have no water supplies, no food supplies, no medication, no nothing.”

It is difficult to verify information about what happens on Christmas Island as the media are generally barred from reporting there.