Police called in for Darwin asylum-seeker 'disturbance'

An unidentified member of Amnesty International joins others in a protest outside the Sydney residence of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, 1 July 2003. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Activists have for years protested against asylum seekers and refugees being held on Nauru

Police in the northern Australian city of Darwin say they have attended to a "disturbance" at an asylum seeker centre, amid reports of ongoing detainee protests.

A rights group says the asylum seekers there are protesting against plans to transfer some of them to Nauru.

Australia has seen a number of protests among asylum seekers kept in detention centres in recent months.

Rights groups have heavily criticised conditions in such centres.

About 70 asylum seekers are blockading the Sun compound of the Wickham Point detention centre in a bid to prevent some of the inmates from being returned to Nauru, a statement from the Refugee Action Coalition said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Activists calling for the closure of the Manus Island detention centre wrote the message "Shut Down Manus" in the sky above Sydney in February
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Asylum seekers are bitterly opposed to being transferred to Nauru

Many of the asylum seekers are families originally from Nauru who fear being returned, it added.

"We are just trying to help each other," one asylum seeker is quoted as telling the rights group.

The NGO says that personnel from the outsourcing company that runs Australia's immigration detention centres, Serco, have withdrawn from the compound.

But it says there are now fears that Serco could use its emergency response team to break the blockade.

A Northern Territories police spokeswoman said they had received calls at around 1540 local time (0710 BST) about a "disturbance" at Wickham Point. She declined to give further details.

Ben Pynt of the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network told the BBC that he has received calls from dozens of detainees about the protest and apparent cases of self-harm.

The group was originally housed in Nauru but were brought to Darwin for medical treatment.

"Nauru is not safe for asylum seekers or refugees. There are limited medical facilities, which is why so many people are being sent to the mainland for medical treatment," the Refugee Action Coalition warns.

Australia and asylum

  • Asylum seekers - mainly from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Iran - travel to Australia's Christmas Island by boat from Indonesia
  • The number of boats rose sharply in 2012 and early 2013. Scores of people have died making the journey
  • To stop the influx, the government has adopted hard-line measures intended as a deterrent
  • Everyone who arrives is detained. Under a new policy, they are processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Those found to be refugees will be resettled in PNG, Nauru or Cambodia
  • Tony Abbott's government has also adopted a policy of tow-backs, or turning boats around
  • Rights groups and the UN have voiced serious concerns about the policies and accuse Australia of shirking international obligations

Australia asylum: Why is it controversial?

Australia saw a lengthy protest by asylum seekers at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea in January, where hundreds reportedly went on hunger strike.

In February 2014, that same camp saw deadly riots where at least one asylum seeker was killed and at least 70 were injured.

In October, the Australian government ordered an inquiry into allegations that asylum seekers were abused in the Nauru detention centre.

It reported in March that there were "credible" claims of assault and harassment.

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