Sun, Dec 19, 2010 - Page 4 News List

Protests held over Christmas Island deaths

AFP, SYDNEY

Asylum seekers have staged two protests on Australia’s Christmas Island, an official said yesterday, days after dozens of men, women and children died in a shipwreck as they tried to reach the outpost.

The immigration department official said the demonstrations late on Friday were peaceful and involved no damage to facilities at Christmas Island — a purpose-built center to house asylum seekers while their claims are assessed.

While he would not say what triggered the incidents, he said detainees were upset about Wednesday’s disaster in which a fishing boat crowded with families was smashed apart in heavy seas, leaving at least 30 people dead.

“They had something to say and the media were there and they decided to speak up,” the department spokesman said.

The first protest involved up to 50 people venting their frustration at conditions inside the camp, including the lack of air-conditioning caused by a power outage on the island, as well as the recent deaths, he said.

The second demonstration included up to 70 people, who staged a peaceful sit-in at the gates to the compound, with some holding signs calling on the UN to help them.

“It was a passive protest,” the spokesman said.

Thousands of asylum seekers, mainly from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, have arrived by boat at Christmas Island over the past 12 months.

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