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November 17, 2010

Protests inside Villawood detention centre tonight

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney
Tom Morgan and Vincent Morello, AAP

Detainees started fires, others refused food and five people launched roof protests amid chaotic scenes at Sydney’s Villawood Detention Centre on Wednesday in the wake of an inmate’s suicide.

An immigration department spokesman confirmed a mattress had been set alight, while live footage showed chairs and garbage bins hurled onto at least two fires.

A man in his 40s was treated for unknown injuries, a NSW Ambulance spokeswoman told AAP.

Jamal Daoud, of the Social Justice Network, was outside Villawood when inmates began their protest on Wednesday afternoon.

He said scores of police were at the scene, and the centre had been put into lockdown with detainees escorted to their rooms.

“They are more angry now because they locked the detainees inside of their rooms at the moment,” Mr Daoud told AAP.

Inmates and campaigners are calling for an inquiry into the death of Ahmad Al Akabi, a 41-year-old father of three young daughters, who killed himself at the centre on Monday after being held in detention for more than a year.

His death follows that of Josefa Rauluni, a 36-year-old Fijian detainee, at Villawood in September.

Mr Daoud and members of the Iraqi community were staging a vigil outside Villawood, mourning Mr Akabi’s death, when the destruction started.

He said three spot fires had been lit but all of them had burnt out by 6pm (AEDT).

A spokesman for the immigration department later said five detainees had taken to the roof but were down by 7.40pm (AEDT).

Mr Daoud said they were distressed following the suicide.

“One of the guys on the roof was living with the guy who committed suicide, and he’s very angry at the moment …

“And the roof is damaged because they knocked off some of the tiles.”

There would be an inquiry into the protest, an immigration spokeswoman said.

Australian Greens immigration spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she was concerned for the safety of the asylum seekers involved.

“Understandably the stress of long-term detention of asylum seekers has continued to build tension and frustration, coupled with the tragic events of this week,” she said.

“It is important to maintain calm and ensure everyone’s safety.”

The Greens and refugee groups have called on the federal government to take measures that ensure the safety of detainees suffering mental illness.

Refugee rights activists say 160 detainees began a hunger strike on Tuesday morning and around 22 Iranian nationals continued their strike into Wednesday.

The federal government denied there was a hunger strike, saying a handful of detainees had refused to eat out of grief.

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263).

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