– Nauru’s government was locked in meetings with Australian Federal Police and immigration officials on Saturday to decide what to do with 50 to 60 asylum seekers charged over riots that have largely destroyed the island’s detention centre, with a damages bill estimated at $60 million.
Six asylum seekers have been taken to hospital, while 125 were being held in jail and 24 in the small police watchhouse, next door to the island’s main high school.
The director of Nauru Media, Sharain Hiram, said the acting president had made a televised address urging Nauruans to stay away from the ruined camp.
Local workers at the centre had been told not to go to work, she said, leaving only security guards, the federal police and “volunteers”, who had restored control at the centre.
At the height of the riot on Friday night, the Nauruan government called for local people to join security forces as deputies. “About 250 locals went up there to help. Nobody got hurt, just minor injuries because people were throwing stones,” Ms Hiram said.
The Nauruan Parliament passed new legislation on Friday night allowing police to hold people without charge for up to seven days. The ringleaders face property damage, destruction of property and riotous behaviour charges, which carry penalties of one to seven years.
80% of the centre has been destroyed, with only the kitchen and recreation buildings standing. Accommodation blocks designed to hold up to 616 people were burnt 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.
The Immigration Department has brought all non-essential staff back to Australia and has halted the processing of asylum seekers’ claims for refugee protection.
A spokeswoman for the Nauruan government said only 10 asylum seekers were not involved in the riots.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Labor should shoulder responsibility for the riots, saying it was sparked by asylum seekers’ frustration that their claims had not yet been processed.
But a witness on Nauru who asked not to be named said the riot was sparked by rumours that the Manus Island centre had been closed – Bianca Hall and Kirsty Needham


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