Sun, Jan 18, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Australia, PNG deny any violence at asylum camp

AFP, SYDNEY

Australia and Papua New Guinea yesterday denied reports that protests at an asylum seeker camp in the Pacific nation had turned violent, officials and reports said, as hundreds of detainees continued a hunger strike.

Several asylum seekers held on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea have swallowed razor blades and washing powder and more than 400 have gone on hunger strike, refugee advocates and reports said.

The detainees said they were protesting their detention, living conditions and the possibility of being permanently resettled in the Pacific nation.

Australia sends asylum seekers who try to enter the nation by boat to offshore detention centers on Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the Pacific, with no prospect of being settled on the mainland, even if they are genuine refugees.

The government rebuttals followed reports from refugee advocates late on Friday that there were clashes between security staff and asylum seekers at the facility.

“The [immigration] department has advised the government that whilst some transferees engaged in disruptive behavior late yesterday, claims reported by some media outlets today that transferees were violently engaged by guards last night at the center are not correct,” an Australian immigration department spokesman said in a statement. “The government is advised that the majority of transferees last night were calm and cooperating with staff.”

Australia’s comments were echoed by Papua New Guinea.

“There was no physical engagement between asylum seekers and security personnel,” a Papua New Guinea government spokesman said in a statement, the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) reported. “Security ... were on standby for safety reasons considering the reported rise in tension. This is only natural to ensure the safety of the workers as well as people in the facility following media reports of self-harm. Workers have essential tasks to maintain such as cleaning and the delivery of other services.”

The spokesman added that no police entered the detention camp.

An asylum seeker told the ABC there was a fight and detainees were threatened.

“They threatened the boys. They told them … ‘we will come and beat you,’” the ABC reported, quoting an unnamed detainee.

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton on Friday said he was worried about the “volatile” and “very serious situation,” urging protesters to resolve their concerns through peaceful means.

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