Protests not over at Australian detention centre

Asylum seekers are pictured in this handout photo provided by the refugee action coalition, taken inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea on Jan 13, 2015. A protest by hundreds of asylum seekers at the Australian detention centre
Asylum seekers are pictured in this handout photo provided by the refugee action coalition, taken inside the Manus Island detention centre in Papua New Guinea on Jan 13, 2015. A protest by hundreds of asylum seekers at the Australian detention centre, where some had sewn their lips shut in protest, had not ended despite government statements to the contrary, rights advocates said on Wednesday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - A protest by hundreds of asylum seekers at an Australian detention centre in Papua New Guinea, where some had sewn their lips shut in protest, had not ended despite government statements to the contrary, rights advocates said on Wednesday.

Australia uses offshore detention centres 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 immigration detention centre 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.

More protests began last week after the asylum seekers were told they would be moved into new accommodation, which they feared would make them more vulnerable to attack by Papua New Guineans opposed to their presence, and had escalated since.

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

On Tuesday, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and officials in Papua New Guinea said a peaceful end to the protests had been negotiated, despite footage seen by Reuters showing riot police forcing their way into the facility.

Refugee advocates contradicted his claims on Wednesday, saying the protests had spread further throughout the camp despite attempts to crush them.

A group of 70 refugees have been imprisoned over their involvement in the protests, said Ian Rintoul, executive director of the Refugee Action Coalition, while others are being held in isolation in the camp's medical facilities.

"They are systematically removing people from compounds who they believe are ring leaders," Mr Rintoul said. "I mean, they really think that they can behead the movement by removing a handful of individuals from the compounds, but it's patently not the case," he said.

A spokesman for Mr Dutton did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment on Wednesday.

Under conservative Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's tough policy, none of the thousands of asylum seekers will ever be eligible for resettlement in Australia, even if they are found to be genuine refugees.

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