Asylum seekers sew lips together in Australia

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for "boat people".

Last Updated: Nov 19, 2010, 15:30 PM IST

Sydney: Up to 10 asylum-seekers in a remote Australian immigration detention centre have sewn their lips together, the government said on Friday, just days after an Iraqi inmate at a Sydney centre took his own life.

"This is distressing for me and most of the Australian people," Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told reporters in Sydney.

Those who self-harmed are among about 160 inmates of Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish descent conducting a peaceful protest at the centre at Christmas Island, which lies in the Indian Ocean off Australia`s west coast.

Bowen said that the group had declined medical assistance and their actions would have no bearing on how their claims to stay in Australia were assessed.

"If you are a genuine refugee you will be accepted. If your application is not regarded as being genuine, it will be rejected and steps will be taken to return you from Australia," he said.

"It is very important that all our detainees in detention centres realise that protests such as this do not change visa application outcomes."

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for "boat people", with most sent to the purpose-built processing centre on Christmas Island which has been stretched to capacity for months and currently has close to 3,000 inmates.

Rights campaigners have called for the government to abandon its detention policy, and they renewed their calls Tuesday after the suicide of Ahmad Al Akabi, an Iraqi facing deportation, in Sydney`s Villawood detention centre.

His death followed that of 36-year-old Fijian Josefa Rauluni who jumped to his death from a building at Villawood in September.

Australia experienced an influx of boatpeople in 2010, mostly from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, and Bowen said he expected to see increased tensions at detention centres as more people were refused refugee status.

"Where we have people who are making an application to stay in Australia, we can expect them to become frustrated; we can expect them to consider making protests to say that they wish to stay in Australia," he said.

Refugee advocates said that the protest was prompted by the suicide of Al Akabi, who had spent much of his year in Australia at Christmas Island and who was known to many of the protesters.

"We have got people who have been in 18 months and they don`t know whether they are going to get out next week, next month or if they are there for another six months," the Refugee Action Coalition`s Ian Rintoul told the ABC.

"It`s that uncertainty which creates the despair inside the detention centres and leads to this kind of protest."

In 2002, about 70 asylum seekers sewed their lips together at the Outback desert camp of Woomera, since closed, in protest against their detention.

Bureau Report