Asylum seekers in Christmas Island had their mouths sewn shut in an act of protest against their detention, according to reports. Refugee advocates said around 400 asylum seekers participated in a week-long protest.
A week before, 70 asylum seekers began a "sit-in" to commemorate the 100 days since the death of killed Iranian detainee Reza Berati on Manus Island. According to a report by ABC, the protests have expanded into something more with hundreds of asylum seekers demanding a solution to their asylum claims.
The Christmas Island detainees did not want to be transferred to other Australian-run detention centres in Manus Island and Nauru because they believe their safety is not guaranteed. Reports said other asylum seekers went on a hunger strike as part of the protest.
Refugee advocates said protestors wanted to be released so they can seek asylum in other countries. Sarah Ross from the Refugee Rights Action Network said several detainees had sewn their lips together and all activities have been suspended during the protests. Ross said asylum seekers must feel "desperate" for them to resort to protesting. She said the situation should be a cause for concern.
The Australian government has confirmed that about 10 detainees on Christmas Island who were also part of the 160 asylum seekers protesting peacefully had sewn their mouths shut.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said their actions were "distressing" but they would not change the results of their refugee applications.
However, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he has received reports that protests in Christmas Island are "under control and under management." Morrison told media it was not "uncommon" for protests to occur in detention centres. He said large numbers of Federal Police are on Christmas Island including trained security personnel.
When asked for a statement about asylum seekers sewing their lips together as part of the protest, Morrison did not comment. He said he will never comment on any protest activity that will only encourage others to do the same and attract media attention.
Australia has been accused of subjecting asylum seekers to inhumane conditions following reports of poor living conditions and deteriorating mental health.