Asia-Pacific

Protesters sew lips shut at Australia asylum camp

Villawood Immigration Detention Centre
Image caption The protest was linked to the suicide of an Iraqi man at a Sydney detention centre on Monday

A group of asylum-seekers have sewn their lips together as part of a wider protest at the Australian immigration detention centre on Christmas Island.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said that about 160 Iraqi, Kurdish and Iranian asylum-seekers were protesting and 10 had sewn their lips together.

The men were accepting water and sugar, and were being monitored, he said.

The protest comes a week after an Iraqi man killed himself at a detention centre in Sydney.

Mr Bowen said it would not change government policy.

"As I understand it, the protest is generally about the situation in their home country, wanting to emphasise that they should be accepted as refugees and the amount of time it takes for processing," he told ABC's PM programme.

"I need to say very clearly that our process is that genuine refugees are accepted, non-genuine refugees are returned.

"Now it is the case that we have seen increased rejection rates of asylum claims. As I've said recently, we can expect more tension as a result of that. But our policy will remain the same."

Long waits

Under Australian government policy all asylum-seekers arriving by boat are detained, mostly in a processing centre on Christmas Island.

The number of new arrivals has increased this year and there are currently almost 3,000 people in the centre waiting for officials to rule on their cases.

Refugee groups say many face long delays to have their cases assessed.

A refugee advocate said that some of the protesters knew the Iraqi man, Ahmad Al Akabi, who killed himself at the Villawood detention centre in Sydney on Monday.

Mr Akabi, who had spent time on Christmas Island, had reportedly become depressed after having two asylum applications rejected in the past year.

Last week the Australian High Court ruled that two asylum-seekers held offshore had been unfairly denied a right of appeal in Australian courts when their claims were rejected.

Lawyers say the ruling could have far-reaching implications for Australia's policy of holding asylum-seekers arriving by boat offshore.

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