The government is expected to come under pressure over its asylum polices after a group of Chinese detainees protesting at Villawood detention centre in Sydney have spent the night on the roof.
Five men and four women who climbed onto the roof on Wednesday, and claim to have been on hunger strike since Monday, are protesting over their asylum claims.
They have reportedly threatened to jump from the roof if authorities don’t agree to give them refugee protection visas. One of the women is thought to be pregnant.
There were reports last night that one man in the group had collapsed after trying to harm himself, but this could not be verified.
The protest follows the apparent suicide of 36-year-old Fijian detainee Josefa Rulani at Villawood on Monday.
The protest has thrown the spotlight on the overcrowding in detention centres and put pressure on the government over its border protection policies.
There are 4,934 people in immigration detention in Australia, including 2,577 on Christmas Island and 2,357 in facilities on the mainland. Of those on the mainland, 2,149 arrived in Australia by boat.
East Timor talks
The government is in discussions to establish a refugee processing hub in East Timor.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowe is expected to travel to Dili soon to discuss the plan after East Timorese Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao agreed to the visit following a request from Ms Gillard.
Ms Gillard on Wednesday discussed her vision for a regional framework for dealing with asylum seekers with Xanana Gusmao, telling the East Timorese prime minister she remained committed to the plan.
Ms Gillard told Mr Gusmao her government remained committed to a strong and close partnership with East Timor, including working towards a regional response to the asylum-seeker issue.
Australia looked forward to ongoing discussion with East Timor on the question of a regional protection framework to combat irregular migration, and the establishment of a regional processing centre, she told Mr Gusmao.
Ms Gillard is also considering a visit to East Timor “at an early stage”.
The opposition has seized on the developments at Villawood, linking the incidents to delays in processing visa applications and capacity issues across the detention network.
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said there would be more protests and incidents at detention centres in the future if Labor was unable to stem the flow of boat arrivals.
“The government is responsible ultimately for the rolling crisis I think you could say we now have in our detention centres,” he said.
“Their decision to make the appeals process more extensive and longer with a panel-based approach is contributing to the issue here.”
Mr Morrison also linked the incidents at Villawood to a deal struck in 2009 with asylum seekers who refused to leave the Australian Customs vessel, the Oceanic Viking, while it was docked in Indonesia.
“I understand it’s just a small number of protesters up there, but what we have here is essentially a copycat situation,” Mr Morrison said.