Asia-Pacific

Asylum seekers stage breakout protest in Australia

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Media captionAsylum seekers broke out of the detention centre and staged a protest

More than 80 asylum seekers broke out of a detention centre in the Australian city of Darwin to stage a protest.

The refugees, most of whom were Afghans, unfurled bed sheets with messages asking for help and mercy.

The breakout follows two days of protest by more than 100 Indonesians at the same facility.

The Afghans agreed to end their demonstration after several hours and returned to the centre.

Delays

The men staged their protest near a highway outside the detention centre. Some carried messages written on bed sheets that said "Show us mercy" and "We are defenceless and seek protection".

They told Australian media that they were angry at the time it was taking for their cases to be processed.

Some said they had recently been told that they did not qualify for refugee status in Australia.

One man said that he had been in detention for nine months since arriving by boat.

Image caption Human rights groups say arbitrary long-term detention can lead to mental health problems

Police negotiated with the group and they agreed to return to the detention centre seven and a half hours after breaking out.

Five of the group were taken to hospital - three with heat exhaustion, one with chest pains and one with an existing foot injury, Australian media said.

An investigation is under way into how the detainees managed to breach the centre's security fence, a spokesman of the Australian immigration department said.

More than 100 alleged people-smugglers from Indonesia rioted at the same facility at the weekend, lighting a fire and smashing property.

Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, says the protesters were impoverished fishermen who had been manipulated by criminal gangs and should simply be sent home.

"I think the fact is that the whole issue of Indonesian fishermen being charged with people smuggling offences, behind that is whether they should be in detention at all, in jail at all.

"And the Indonesian government has actually made the same point. People want to go home and understandably and rightly so," he said.

Tough action

Under current Australian government policy, those who arrive by boat without valid documents are taken into immigration detention on Christmas Island or centres on the mainland while their reasons for being in the country are verified.

The country's Department of Immigration says that so far during 2010 authorities have stopped boats carrying more than 3,900 asylum seekers - an increase of more than 1,000 on the total figure for 2009.

Immigration was one of the major issues in Australia's recent general election that returned a hung parliament.

Both major parties promised tough action to curb a steady flow of asylum seekers arriving by sea.

However most of the independents who will decide which side forms the next government favour what they have described as a more compassionate approach to asylum seekers, says the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney.

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