10/11/2015 9:07 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST

Dutton on Christmas Island: 'We Won't Cower In The Face Of Criminals'

Fairfax/Alex Ellinghausen

CANBERRA – Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has declared the Turnbull Government “will not cower in the face of criminals” as he confirmed an operation is underway to restore order to the Christmas Island immigration detention centre.

A large group of specialist police reinforcements and staff from the centre’s management Serco arrived on the island overnight to quell the “major disturbance” which began on Sunday night in reaction to the death of an escaped Kurdish Iranian refugee.

The Immigration Department has released a statement saying the centre perimeter is secure and attempts to light new fires were thwarted overnight. It also said Serco staff have been “methodically re-entering and securing control” of compounds within the centre.

“There's an operation under way at the moment and we want to restore calm and order to the centre,” Dutton told reporters in Canberra.

“We have been very clear about the fact that the Government's not going to cower in the face of the activities of some of these criminals.”

Guards had earlier left the centre for their safety, amid fires and other damage to the facility, with detainees describing staff “freaking out” and leaving their posts.

Dutton says there is a “core group of criminals” barricaded in the centre, although the Immigration Department claims Serco staff re-enter the facility and taken back control of central facilities, including the administration area and medical clinic.

The Department has revealed it has moved some detainees not actively participating in the disturbance to another part of the facility.

“However, a group of detainees are continuing to engage in non-compliant behaviour putting themselves and others at risk,” it said in its latest statement.

Detainees have, however, spoken to the media rejecting the department’s claims, saying they have been without food and medicine.

"There's no officers on site, they haven't come in and take control," an unnamed detainee told the ABC.

The Minister and the Department have blamed the unrest on detainees facing deportation, under recently introduced laws targeting other nationals with criminal convictions.

“People need to bear in mind that the population within the Christmas Island immigration detention centre is now much hardened population compared to what it would have been a few years ago,” he said.

“There's still a core group of criminals who are causing disruption and the Australian Federal Police and the Serco guards no doubt will deal with that threat in due course.”

The Immigration Minister said any criminal offences will be referred to the police.

“The place will be cleaned up and people who have caused damage to Australian Government property will be dealt with accordingly,” he declared.

The Immigration Department said it is negotiating with detainees to get medicine to those in need and has encouraged family and friends to help end the disturbance.

“Those in contact with detainees on Christmas Island are encouraged to inform them to return to their rooms if safe to do so, and to follow the directions of service provider staff,” it said.