Australian Refugee Camp Protest Over, but Not Tensions


JANUARY 20, 2015

Sydney. A protest involving hundreds of asylum seekers at an Australian immigration detention center in Papua New Guinea, some of whom had sewn their lips shut in protest, has ended without serious violence, authorities there said on Tuesday.

Australia uses offshore detention centers in Papua New Guinea and the tiny South Pacific island nation of Nauru to process would-be refugees trying to reach the country, often in unsafe boats after paying people-smugglers in Indonesia.

The detention center on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea was the scene of riots in February 2014, in which one asylum seeker was killed and more than 70 injured after residents overran the camp, attacking detainees.

The protests began last week after the refugees were told they would be moved into new accommodation, which they feared would make them more vulnerable to attack, and had escalated in recent days.

Journalists are barred from visiting Manus Island, so information about the protests cannot be verified independently.

A spokesman for Papua New Guinea's chief migration officer, Mataio Rabura, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that a peaceful end to the protests had been negotiated.

PNG Immigration Minister Rimbink Pato said in a statement "agitators" had been detained by private security personnel and an undisclosed number arrested by police.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's tough line on people smuggling has been credited with bringing the trade to a virtual halt, but thousands remain in camps like Manus Island.

Under Australian law, none of the asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea will ever be eligible for resettlement in Australia, even if they are found to be genuine refugees.

Several detainees reportedly swallowed razor blades or detergent as acts of self-harm, citing the despair of endless detention as a major factor in the protest.

"Every day ... they're telling us something like 'tomorrow, we are going to release some people tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, the day after now,' - it's almost two years and nothing happened," a detainee calling himself Dave told the ABC on Monday.

Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who did not respond to requests for comment, said protesters could be resettled in Cambodia under a controversial deal signed last year, but under no circumstances in Australia.

"We send a clear message, particularly those ringleaders on Manus at the moment and over the course of the last few days, that have been causing significant disruption, that those people will not be settled in our country," Dutton told the ABC.