SHAFAQNA –Australia and Papua New Guinea on Saturday 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 PNG 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 country by boat to offshore detention centres 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 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 behaviour late yesterday, claims reported by some media outlets today that transferees were violently engaged by guards last night at the centre 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 PNG.
“There was no physical engagement between asylum seekers and security personnel,” a PNG government spokesman said in a statement, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation 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 tomorrow… the new group will come from Australia and we will come and will enter into the camp and we will beat you,” the ABC reported, quoting the unnamed detainee.
Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Friday he was worried about the “volatile” and “very serious situation”, urging protesters to resolve their concerns through peaceful means.
He added that Canberra would maintain its hardline policy on boatpeople.
The protests come a month before the first anniversary of a riot at the camp that left Iranian Reza Barati dead and 69 injured after tensions flared among inmates.
Some 1,035 men are held on Manus Island, according to immigration figures ending December 31. No women and children are detained in the camp.
A total of 895 asylum-seekers — 596 men, 164 women and 135 children — are held on Nauru.