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Rooftop Protest Ends at Australian Asylum Center


Eleven detainees at an Australian facility for illegal migrants have ended their rooftop protest after more 29 hours. The men had been threatening to kill themselves if Australian officials did not reconsider their applications for asylum.

Australian authorities spent Tuesday negotiating with 11 detainees holding a protest on the roof of a building at the Villawood detention center in Sydney.

They began the protest Monday after a Fijian detainee apparently committed suicide by leaping from the roof after learning his asylum request had been rejected and he would be deported.

There are reports the men's asylum requests have been denied and they face deportation. Australian officials, however, have not confirmed the status of the applications.

Refugee advocate Brami Jagen says the detainees, Sri Lankan Tamils, an Iraqi and an Iranian, are desperate.

"Apparently they'd had a visit from an immigration official earlier in the week who'd said that, given that the situation in countries - and he'd named a few countries - was getting better, or was better, they could expect that some of them or more of them could be sent home," explained Jagen, "and this had kept them in a real heightened state of anxiety. You know, two of the guys from Afghanistan that we, our group, met with, they were just bawling their eyes out because they were so upset and scared. And I think that's kind of the mood that then, kind of escalated when they saw this, this young man die."

The sprawling Villawood immigration center holds inmates who have overstayed their visas and are awaiting deportation as well as those who have applied for asylum.

Australia generally detains migrants who enter the country illegally while their requests for asylum are processed. But detention centers have become overcrowded because of a steady influx of asylum seekers by boat in the past 18 months.

The government wants to open a refugee center in neighboring East Timor to deter boat people from making the hazardous voyage to Australia.

Australia grants visas to about 13,000 refugees a year under various international resettlement programs.

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