SYDNEY, August 31, 2011 (AFP) â€“ Detainees set fire to an Australian immigration detention center Wednesday in apparent frustration that they were unable to fully celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid, refugee activists said.
The Immigration Department said tactical police and the fire brigade were called to a â€œdisturbanceâ€ at Darwinâ€™s Northern Detention Centre, which houses 466 single men, after two fires were lit.
The fires were extinguished and nobody was injured.
Refugee advocates said the incident was unrelated to the High Court decision Wednesday to block the governmentâ€™s plans to send asylum-seekers to Malaysia as part of a controversial swap deal.
The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network said most of those involved in the blaze, in which it is believed mattresses were set alight, were Indonesians accused of people-smuggling and illegal fishing.
â€œI think what sparked it was concerns from detainees about the inability for them to fully participate in Eid,â€ said network member Carl Oâ€™Connor, referring to the festival which marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
â€œThis is in the context of general concern from detainees in immigration detention in Darwin about access to religious services.â€
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul also said the unrest came amid concern the detainees were unable to fully practice their religion.
â€œThere were issues about how they were going to celebrate Eid with the end of Ramadan and that was apparently rejected… and thatâ€™s been the straw that broke the camelâ€™s back,â€ he told Australian news agency AAP.
â€œThereâ€™s a lot of tensions with the Indonesians anyway because theyâ€™re waiting months and sometimes a year and longer before theyâ€™re actually charged.â€
The immigration department refused to speculate on the cause of the fires but said all detainees were free to practice their religion.
â€œNo one was prevented from observing Ramadan and Eid,â€ a spokesman told AFP, but added that not all of those who wanted to were able to be transported to a local mosque for worship on Friday.
The Darwin compound, like several other immigration detention facilities holding asylum-seekers, has been hit with unrest previously, including a roof-top protest and hunger strike in July.