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Asylum Seekers Attempt Escape

Australian detainees try a breakout at one camp and engage in a standoff at another.

January 01, 2003|From Reuters

SYDNEY, Australia — Asylum seekers attempted a breakout at one Australian detention center and engaged guards in an armed standoff at another, setting fires at both sites, officials said Tuesday.

At the Villawood detention center in western Sydney, police said inmates started fires and attacked guards Tuesday in an escape attempt by 20 to 30 people. No injuries were reported, but residents said smoke was pouring from the center from what fire officials said were six blazes.

A Villawood official said that between 60 and 80 detainees rioted in another section of the center. Police later said the riot had stopped early today.

On remote Christmas Island, detainees occupied a compound, setting fires and challenging guards in an armed standoff, officials said.

The latest violence, which has swept through most of Australia's seven detention centers in recent days, has again spotlighted Australia's stance of detaining all illegal arrivals in guarded camps.

Asylum cases can take years to process. Prime Minister John Howard has said his government will not be deterred from detaining illegal immigrants or from diverting boats carrying mainly Afghan and Middle Eastern asylum seekers to Pacific islands.

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