SYDNEY - Asylum-seekers in a detention centre in Papua New Guinea said Sunday that Canberra was holding them "hostage" in an effort to deter others from paying people-smugglers to bring them to Australia.
After days of hunger strike protests on PNG's Manus Island, refugee advocates said asylum-seekers were continuing to protest against their 18 months of detention in the offshore location.
"The Australian government is planning to resettle us in PNG against our will, by forcing us," asylum-seekers wrote in a letter distributed by the Refugee Action Coalition.
"We are not willing to be resettled in PNG because there is no safety (or) any future for us and our family.
"Today we consider us to be hostage for the Australian government so they can deter others not to come to Australia." Asylum-seekers who try to enter Australian waters on unauthorised boats are sent to offshore detention centres on Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the Pacific with no prospect of being settled on the mainland - even if they are genuine refugees.
The policy is designed to stop the flow of boatpeople arriving in Australia, who had been arriving almost daily in often unsafe wooden fishing vessels, with hundreds drowning en route.
Australia has faced criticism for its treatment of asylum-seekers since the hardline policy was introduced in July 2013.
The Australian and Papua New Guinean governments have rejected reports that the protests on Manus had turned violent, but Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Friday the situation was volatile.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported Sunday that groups of asylum-seekers had barricaded themselves inside a compound at Manus and were not allowing staff to enter.
Amid conflicting reports about the extent of the protests, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said Sunday that "the flow of information is not always reliable".
But he reiterated the government's stance that asylum-seekers arriving on unauthorised boats would not be resettled in Australia.
"You won't be able to get your way into this country through some kind of illegal people smuggling operation or by, for that matter, put up an argument that somehow or other you are being badly treated now and therefore should be granted access to this country," Truss said.
Opposition Labor leader Bill Shorten said Australians were "sick and tired of the culture of secrecy surrounding Manus Island".
"We've got to have the right policies in terms of deterring people smugglers but the people who come into the care of Australia must be treated properly," said Shorten, whose Labor Party introduced the policy of sending asylum-seekers to Manus to be resettled in PNG.