Nauru detention centre left 'a war zone'

Refugee processing has been halted on Nauru, where riots on Friday caused an estimated NZ$69 million damage and left four asylum seekers in hospital.

On Saturday, 129 asylum seekers were being held at the Nauru police station watch house. On Friday night the Nauru parliament passed new legislation allowing police to hold people without charge for up to seven days.

The ringleaders in Friday's fracas face property damage, destruction of property and riotous behaviour charges, which carry penalties of one to seven years.

Most of the centre has been destroyed, with only the kitchen and recreation buildings standing. Accommodation blocks designed to hold up to 616 people were burned to the ground, as were office blocks. A dining room and health centre were also destroyed.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Immigration said asylum seekers would be moved to another site on the island that has been bulldozed in preparation for the construction of a new facility for families.

All 550 asylum seekers will now have to sleep in tents and marquees until replacement facilities can be built.

Rumours that a policeman had been stabbed on Friday night were incorrect.

A spokeswoman for the Nauruan government said police were stood down at 5am on Saturday. She said just 10 asylum seekers had not had any involvement in the riots.

The immigration department has brought all non-essential staff back to Australia, and has halted processing of asylum seekers' claims for refugee protection. It is unclear when processing will resume.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Labor should shoulder responsibility for the riots, saying it was sparked by asylum seekers' frustration their claims had not yet been processed.

No asylum seekers remain at large.

About 150 local men answered a call from the Justice department to volunteer at the centre.

A witness on Nauru who asked not to be named said the riot was sparked by false rumours that the Manus Island centre had been closed. The rumours emerged before Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's announcement on Friday afternoon that all asylum seekers heading to Australia by boat would now be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and resettlement.

Another source said there was considerable anger in the Nauru government and among immigration officials no warning was given ahead of Mr Rudd's announcement asylum seekers would "never" be settled in Australia.

Food stocks are also believed to have been destroyed at the camp.

The riots began at 3pm, when asylum seekers staged a protest. Authorities evacuated the centre at 4pm, according to local reports.

According to a written order obtained by Fairfax Media, Nauru's acting Police Minister, David Adeang, has deputised a new "Nauru Police Force Reserve" to respond to the riots.

The force includes contractors from Australian company Transfield as well as ''all others deputised to respond.

On Friday women and children on Nauru were instructed by the government to lock their doors and stay inside until further notice. Men were told to present to the centre to be deputised as security guards.


This morning freelance photographer Clint Deidenang described it as a "war zone".

"Smokes (sic) can be seen from the torched storey buildings... 95 per cent buildings burned out."

He said workers clad in orange shirts could be seen going though the wreckage, including new sleeping quarters worth tens of millions of dollars.

"All burned buildings are now unliveable. Total waste of moneys...

"How can detainees be settle back into the RPAC? The entire buildings are burned down. Very destructive."

Plastic water tanks near the facility had "melted like butter" while the roofs of once colourful buildings had "caved in".

Deidenang called the riot "the biggest, baddest ever in Nauru."

Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said detainees had been protesting on Nauru all week over delays in processing their claims for refugee status.

Rudd announced on Friday that no asylum seeker who comes by boat will ever be resettled in Australia.

Instead they will be sent to Papua New Guinea for processing and, if found to be refugees, will be resettled there.

The detention centres on the South Pacific island nation were closed in 2007 by then-PM Rudd, but reoponed in August 2012 during Julia Gillard's period as prime minister to process asylum seekers and refugees arriving by boat in Australia.

Any asylum seeker who arrives by boat without a visa would have no chance of being resettled in Australia as a refugee, Rudd announced yesterday.

At a Brisbane press conference, flanked by Immigration Minister Tony Burke and Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, Rudd declared he would "combat the scourge of people smuggling" through a new resettlement arrangement.

In the strongest line a modern Labor prime minister has taken against people smugglers, Rudd said: ''As of today asylum seekers who come here by boat without a visa will never be settled in Australia.''

Under the new Regional Settlement Arrangement signed with PNG, unauthorised arrivals will be sent to that country for assessment and if found to be a refugee will be settled there.

The Prime Minister said it was a necessary step.

''Australians have had enough of seeing people drowning in the waters to our north,'' Mr Rudd said. ''Our country has had enough of people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers and seeing them to drown on the high seas.''