Fires at Baxter Immigration Detention Centre in South Australia

Saturday, November 12, 2005

34 accommodation units have been destroyed by fire at the Baxter Detention Centre near Pt Augusta in South Australia today. The blaze also gutted a kitchen, laundry, recreational area and officers’ station. The original blaze broke out around 4am ACST in the kitchen of the “White One” compound which houses single men. Fire units took almost three hours to put them out.

Fifty-eight detainees were evacuated from Baxter IDC. Six have been treated for smoke inhalation.

Immigration minister Amanda Vanstone says about 17 rooms have been ruined and others damaged. She says deliberate property damage will not be tolerated and the Australian Federal Police are questioning four detainees over the blazes and anyone found responsible will be charged.

“Anyone with no lawful right to be in Australia should leave irrespective of the behaviour that they’ve undertaken, but if someone with a visa or without a visa to be in Australia engages in criminal conduct that would be taken into account in terms of cancelling a visa,” she said.

The Metropolitan Fire Service (MFS) said four fires appeared to have been deliberately lit. “The first fire in the kitchen area was followed by three other separate fires within the complex,” an MFS spokesman said.

Refugee rights advocate Pamela Curr said she had concerns about the safety of detainees in the event of a fire because of the electronic doors. She said detainees at a detention centre at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport had been killed during a fire last month because authorities had been unable to manually open the electronic doors. “Thank heavens nobody seems to have been hurt today,” she said. “We’re always on the alert that Baxter is not a safe detention centre”.

Bernadette Wauchope from Rural Australians for Refugees says the destruction will continue until something is done. “They become so desperate that they attempt self-harm or attempt suicide or maybe resort to lighting fires,” she said. “After being locked up for years and years the feeling that they’re isolated and that nobody’s listening to what their stories are, often that, well it does contribute to these kinds of acts,” she said.

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