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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Australia Says Asylum Center May Be Closed

SYDNEY, Australia -- Australia's government hinted Tuesday it might close an Outback detention center and move illegal immigrants protesting their confinement to other sites.

The government also gave in to demands from nine children who threatened suicide by throwing themselves on razor wire unless they were removed from the Woomera detention center in the desert north of the South Australia state.

The five Afghan and four Iraqi teenagers, aged 16 and 17 and without parents in the internment camp, have been placed in the care of the state department of human services, a spokesman said. They will likely be placed in foster homes.

A separate group of nine, all aged 18, remained in Woomera and said they would harm themselves at 5 p.m. Wednesday if they were not moved out, detainee Hassan Varasi told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Detainees at Woomera have tried to hang themselves, drunk disinfectant and sewn up their lips to protest at the time -- months, sometimes years -- it takes to process their asylum claims.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said Tuesday Woomera could be scaled down as other holding facilities were built. Closing Woomera might be possible in the future, he added.

Church leaders and the Red Cross have joined a chorus criticizing the government's policy of locking up illegal immigrants while their asylum applications are considered.

But the United Nations refugee agency, while reiterating its opposition to Australian refugee policy, also lashed out at the teenage asylum-seekers' parents, whom it called "irresponsible."

Kris Janowski, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told journalists at a news conference in Geneva that the suicide threat and acts of self-harm by the asylum seekers were "completely unacceptable."

"We are extremely concerned about acts of self-harm committed by refugees. I mean people pushing their children to threaten suicide for example, 11- and 13-year-olds, is totally irresponsible. Having your children sew their lips together, and so on, these are things that can't in any way be accepted or condoned by UNHCR," Janowski said.

"It is an abuse of the children by their parents," he added.

There are about 3,000 illegal immigrants currently in detention in five camps across Australia.

(AP, Reuters)