SYDNEY, Australia. November 19, 2010 (AFP) – UP TO 10 asylum-seekers in a remote Australian immigration detention centre have sewn their lips together, the government said on Friday, just days after an Iraqi inmate at a Sydney centre took his own life.

‘This is distressing for me and most of the Australian people,’ Immigration Minister Chris Bowen told reporters in Sydney.

Those who self-harmed are among about 160 inmates of Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish descent conducting a peaceful protest at the centre at Christmas Island, which lies in the Indian Ocean off Australia’s west coast.

Bowen said that the group had declined medical assistance and their actions would have no bearing on how their claims to stay in Australia were assessed.

‘If you are a genuine refugee you will be accepted. If your application is not regarded as being genuine, it will be rejected and steps will be taken to return you from Australia,’ he said.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for ‘boat people”, with most sent to the purpose-built processing centre on Christmas Island which has been stretched to capacity for months and currently has close to 3,000 inmates. 


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