ARMED police stormed a plane on the Christmas Island tarmac last week after a distressed and agitated asylum-seeker allegedly claimed to have a bomb during a flight from Perth.
The incident occurred last Thursday as tensions began to climb at the island’s compounds, which now hold about 2000 asylum-seekers, many of them in indefinite detention.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment yesterday on claims from guards and refugee advocates that discontent was growing at the island’s main detention centre, and that some detainees had sewn their lips in protest.
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“It is longstanding government practice not to confirm or comment on reports of such protest behaviour as commentary or publication of such activities can provide an incentive for such behaviour, which is in the best interests of people in detention to discourage,” the spokesman said.
Detainees are regularly transferred on and off the island from other centres, sometimes as a way of managing behaviour.
Last Thursday, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection was transferring a group of asylum-seekers from Perth to the Australian Indian Ocean territory on a charter jet when one of the men became extremely upset.
The Australian has been told the man made statements that alarmed staff, allegedly including that he had a bomb, and he was placed in flexi-cuffs for the remainder of the flight. When the plane landed at Christmas Island, officers from a special unit of the Australian Federal Police boarded. They were followed by two workers from the department’s health contractor IHMS.
The man, a 27-year-old Lebanese national, was then removed from the plane by police.
Yesterday, the AFP confirmed it had responded to the incident.
“The AFP can confirm a referral was received on 9 January, 2014, in relation to an alleged incident involving a Department of Immigration and Border Protection detainee on board a flight from Perth to Christmas Island,” a spokeswoman for the AFP said.
“The detainee has been charged under the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991.
“A bail hearing was held on 13 January, 2014, at the Christmas Island Magistrates Court and the detainee will reappear in court on 10 March, 2014.”
The man has been charged with a section of the act that deals with false threats and statements. Those familiar with the case said it was obvious the man did not have a bomb. The act states that a person must not threaten to destroy, damage or endanger the safety of an aircraft, or to kill or injure anyone on board such an aircraft. The maximum penalty is 10 years’ jail.
The island holds many of the asylum-seekers who arrived after Kevin Rudd announced his Papua New Guinea solution. Refugee advocates say leaving them there in asylum limbo is a cruel attempt to force them home.