A senior immigration advisor to the Australian government has resigned in protest as discontent at the refugee detention centers escalates.
Senior adviser Neville Roach quit Wednesday citing his belief that the Australian government is being inflexible on its immigration procedures.
Australia takes in thousands of legal immigrants every year and faces an influx of thousands more who try to sneak into the country. In the past six months, Australia has stepped up efforts to discourage illegal immigration by intercepting boatloads of asylum seekers before they reach Australia. Those who do however are automatically detained in immigration centers while their asylum applications are reviewed.
The issue has been kept in the spotlight by protests at many of Australia's immigration centers.
At the Woomera detention facility, some 200 asylum seekers have been on a hunger strike for more than a week. Some have sewn their lips together in an act that has gotten much media attention.
Wednesday seven other asylum seekers were treated in the hospital after swallowing shampoo and painkillers.
Immigration Minster Philip Ruddock says the detainees are recovering. "Well I understand the condition of those taken to hospital is stable and obviously the protests continue. A mixture of shampoo and Panadol (painkiller), I'm not sure is altogether life threatening but in the condition the people are in it's a very, it's a very unhelpful range of products to be ingesting and obviously part of the protest," Mr. Ruddock said.
The asylum seekers, mostly from the Middle East and Afghanistan, are angry at what they claim are long and unexplained delays in the processing of visas.
The government says that security checks on the illegal immigrants are taking longer following the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States.
Refugee advocates have criticized the automatic detention as unfair and harsh. There have been calls for the United Nations to get involved.
But the Australian government says many of the illegal immigrants are themselves being unfair by trying to jump ahead of thousand of others who go through established visa procedures.
The government appears to have widespread support for its policies. Prime Minister John Howard won a third term in office last November - at the height of the immigration debate.