July 23: Nauru’s resident magistrate says the asylum seekers being held over a mass riot at the country’s detention centre have not yet been charged because their identity papers were destroyed by fire.
Most of the Australian-run centre was burnt to the ground on Friday night, at an estimated cost of $60 million.
Magistrate Peter Law says 152 asylum seekers have been been detained and will start facing court tomorrow. He says he has given police more time to prepare charges because it has been difficult to establish the identity of those involved. “I understand their identity papers were destroyed during the course of the fire,” he said.
The riot began on Friday as a peaceful protest over the slow processing of claims.
But a security guard who does not want to be named says protesters took over the centre, gained access to a kitchen, and armed themselves with knives and steel bars. Buildings were burned to the ground, including accommodation blocks, the health centre and the dining room.
Nauruan officials say 80 per cent of the centre’s buildings were destroyed and nearly all of the 540 asylum seekers housed on the island were involved in the riot.
Emergency equipment and medical supplies have been flown to Nauru and an Immigration Department spokeswoman says temporary accommodation is being set up to house the asylum seekers at the site where a new permanent detention facility is being built.
Mr Law says some of the asylum seekers could be charged with arson, which carries a maximum life sentence.
Immigration Minister Tony Burke has already threatened to refuse or cancel the visas of those found responsible.
The department said the riot is not related to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s recent announcement that Australia will no longer accept asylum seekers who arrive by boat.