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Standoff ends at Australian immigration detention camp

A standoff between protesting detainees and Australian officials ended Tuesday with the arrival of federal police

A standoff between protesting detainees and officials at a remote detention center for asylum seekers in the Indian Ocean ended on Tuesday after federal police arrived to stop more than a day of unrest that prompted guards to flee the facility and left parts of the compound badly damaged, officials said.

Most detainees cooperated with police negotiators at the detention center on the Australian territory of Christmas Island, but officials used "some force" against a core group of protesters who had built barricades and had threatened to use weapons, the immigration department said in a statement. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said officers used tear gas to subdue the detainees, but declined to elaborate on what other tactics police used to quell the unrest.

Five detainees were being treated for injuries or medical conditions, though none were life-threatening, the department said. Dutton said the injuries amounted to minor lacerations.

Some areas of the facility appeared to be severely damaged, with Dutton estimating the cost of repairs at around $700,000, or $1M Australian dollars. Detainees were being held in undamaged parts of the compound.

The unrest broke out Monday following the death of an asylum seeker who escaped from the facility.

A member of RISE, a rights group campaigning for refugee rights in Melbourne, Australia, said refugees heard the Iranian man screaming for help, then later saw him in a body bag.

The man's body was found on Sunday at the bottom of a cliff on the island. The cause of his death is under investigation.

Immigration officials say a small group of Iranian detainees staged a peaceful protest following the asylum seeker's death, but other detainees then began damaging the property, lighting several small fires and prompting guards to retreat.

The people leading the unrest were not believed to be asylum seekers, but detainees who are being held at the facility due to their visas being canceled, immigration officials said.

On Monday, the Department of Immigration said staff and security had been withdrawn for security purposes and denied a large scale riot was taking place.

Currently, there are about 285 asylum-seekers at the Christmas Island camp. Section 501 of Australia's Migration Act permits the deportation of a non-Australian citizen who fails the "character test," the portal for which includes any prison sentence longer than 12 months.

Australia last year strengthened the power it has to cancel visas (PDF), making it mandatory to do so if a person has been sentenced to at least a year in jail. That has led to an influx of New Zealanders with criminal records — some of whom were long-term residents of Australia — ending up in immigration detention while they await deportation. Some of them are appealing the government's decision to revoke their visas.

Australia has taken a tough stance in recent years on asylum seekers who try to reach its shores illegally. Asylum seekers who pay people smugglers to take them in rickety boats to Australia from Indonesia are detained on Christmas Island and on the impoverished Pacific island nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Al Jazeera with The Associated Press

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