June 01, 2014
Refugee advocates say up to 400 asylum seekers on Christmas Island are involved in a week-long protest against their detention.
About 70 detainees began a sit-in last week to mark 100 days since the death of Iranian asylum seeker Reza Berati on Manus Island earlier this year.
The ABC was told the protests had expanded, with hundreds of detainees demanding a resolution to their claims for asylum.
They said they did not want to be transferred to centres on Manus Island and Nauru as their safety could not be guaranteed.
There were also reports a small number of the protestors were engaged in a hunger strike.
Advocates said the detainees wanted to be released in order to seek asylum elsewhere.
Earlier, Sarah Ross from the Refugee Rights Action Network said a number of detainees had sewn their lips together.
She also said classes and activities had been suspended.
“For them to protest means that they feel that they have no other choice and that they have nothing to lose,” she said.
“It’s concerning because it mean that people are really desperate.
“It means that they’ve been there for a significant period of time and they still haven’t received any word on their case.”
But Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he had been advised the situation on the island was “under control and under management.”
“It’s not uncommon for peaceful protests to occur in detention facilities,” he said.
“There are large numbers of Federal Police who are based on Christmas Island, and there are also significantly numbered and appropriately trained security personnel as part of the T team there on Christmas Island.”
He would not comment on whether asylum seekers had sewn their lips together as part of the protest.
“I never comment on protest activity that people are engaged in for two reasons – one is the purpose of engaging in such activity is to gain media attention, so I’m not going to do that,” he said.
“The second is where there are those sorts of allegations of people’s behaviour, I’m not about to encourage others to engage in it either by giving it publicity.
The small island off the north-west coast of Australia had seen earlier protests turn violent, with extensive damage caused to the facility.
In 2010 detainees at the detention centre sewed their lips together in protest of their continuing detention.
In 2011, riots broke out amid allegations of overcrowding.
Australian Federal Police on the island used tear gas and bean-bag rounds on detainees who hurled rocks at staff and set fire to the accomodation block at the centre, causing millions of dollars worth of damage.
A report released earlier this month found many asylum seekers on the island were suffering life-threatening medical conditions, and children are showing serious developmental and mental health problems.
A doctor interviewed for the University of New South Wales paper said people on the island were referred to by their boat number, not their name.