'They’re smashing windows': Detainee describes scenes at Christmas Island

A New Zealand detainee on Christmas Island has described men smashing windows and burning mattresses as riots broke out following the death of an asylum seeker.

A New Zealand man claiming to be in detention on Christmas Island claims staff left the immigration detention centre after riots broke out in the early hours of this morning.

The man, who wants to be known as "Malu", says tensions were brewing in the centre following the death of an asylum seeker, believed to be Iranian-Kurdish Fazel Chegeni, who escaped from the detention centre on Friday and was found dead on Sunday.

"There have been fires and break-ins and…property has been destroyed," Malu said, speaking on the phone from Christmas Island.

He claimed he had been asleep when he first heard the disturbance but did not want to get involved himself.

"I got up and walked out and could see guys running around outside our wing," he said.

Malu said that conditions at the facility were poor and alleged that detainees were subjected to beatings and sometimes deprived of food.

"Guys are getting bashed," he said. "They are pretty bad, some of the assaults the inmates get."

He said staff left the centre after the riots broke out and have not provided any further information. 

"No one is around," he said. "They just all left the buildings."

The Department of Immigration said no injuries have been reported and initial reports of damage were being assessed.

"The Department and its service providers are working together to resolve the situation," a spokesperson told SBS.

"The Department will not speculate on the motivations of those involved. 

"The Department is committed to providing a safe and secure environment for detainees, and maintaining the good order of detention facilities."

'They have suffered tremendously'

Erina Morunga, founder of Iwi n Aus, which advocates for New Zealanders in Australia, has been in contact with a number of detainees on the island. 

She said it was her understanding that disturbances broke out after an alleged altercation between a detainee and member of staff at the centre.

She said many of the detainees had stayed out of the riots because they feared getting involved would mean they would have to stay on the island longer.

"They have suffered tremendously being separated from their families," she said of the detainees.

"They feel very dehumanised and unheard. The stress levels have just been enormous."

But she said there were others who wanted to make a statement by protesting.

"There has been a lot of damage done to the buildings - to the premises - in the hope that they won’t ever have to remain there, so they can be brought back to the mainland," she said.

Coroner to investigate death 

Earlier, the Department of Immigration confirmed the body of an asylum seeker on Christmas Island had been found, following his escape from the island's detention centre.

The man was reported missing on Friday.

His body was discovered on Sunday by the Australian Federal Police.

His cause of death is unknown.

In a statement, the Department of Immigration says a coronial inquiry will be conducted.

- With AAP

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