A protest by asylum seekers at an Australian offshore detention centre has entered its seventh day, with hundreds reportedly on a hunger strike.
Detainees at one compound on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have locked staff out, according to Australian media reports.
Australia has accused the detainees of aggressive and disruptive behaviour.
The policy of detaining asylum seekers offshore – intended as a deterrent – has been criticised by rights groups.
Australia sends all asylum seekers arriving by boat to offshore camps in PNG and the Pacific territory of Nauru for detention and processing.
The Manus Island centre was the scene of deadly riots last February, when local residents entered the facility and clashed with detainees. One asylum seeker was killed and at least 70 were hurt in the violence.
Detainees in one part of the camp have barricaded themselves inside their compound and can no longer take deliveries of food, reports say.
The detainees are reportedly protesting against a PNG government plan to move 50 of them, who have been deemed to be genuine refugees, to Lorengau, the capital of Manus province.
“They believe their lives are in danger,” Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for campaign group the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), told the BBC. “This is also upsetting other people [in the detention centre] who fear the same will happen to them.”
The detainees are said to be afraid that they will be attacked by local people if they are moved to Lorengau. Mr Rintoul said the refugees were so frightened of being resettled that they were refusing to leave the centre, despite the troubles there.
He said there were no measures in place to help the asylum seekers who were accepted as refugees to get employment, education or accommodation in PNG.
Under laws brought in by the previous government, none of the people held in offshore camps can expect to be resettled in Australia – even if they are found to be genuine refugees.
There were unconfirmed reports on Monday that drinking water had been turned off in one of the compounds, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported. There were also unconfirmed reports that PNG police would be brought in to quell the protests, it said.
In a letter seen by the ABC, asylum seekers said they wanted their organs to be donated to Australians if they died inside the centre. The Guardian meanwhile reported that four men at the centre had been taken to a solitary confinement unit.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on Monday that a number of detainees had been behaving aggressively since the weekend.
“The failure of this group to cease their disturbing actions is irresponsible – rather than protesting peacefully, they have chosen a disruptive path,” Mr Dutton said in a statement.
He said the detainees were not being denied food and water. However, he said, the actions of some of the detainees had prevented the delivery of food, water and medical services to others who were not participating in the protest.
Mr Dutton said “false and irresponsible claims being circulated by some advocates” were undermining the work of staff at the centre. He added that Australia was working with the PNG authorities to resolve the unrest.
The government says its tough policies are aimed at ending the flow of boats carrying asylum seekers, so that no more people die making the dangerous journey to Australia.
Only one such boat reached Australia during 2014, compared with the 401 which successfully reached shore in 2013, according to local media reports.
Australia and asylum
- Asylum seekers – mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran – have been travelling to Australia’s Christmas Island on rickety boats from Indonesia
- The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and the beginning of 2013, and scores of people died making the journey
- Everyone who arrives is detained. They are processed in camps in Christmas Island, Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG or Cambodia, not Australia
- The government is believed to be towing boats back to Indonesia. It has also returned asylum seekers intercepted at sea to Sri Lanka
- Rights groups and the UN have voiced serious concerns about the policies