- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 24, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia A senior adviser to the Australian government quit yesterday over Canberra's hard-line treatment of illegal immigrants amid escalating protests by asylum seekers at a remote detention camp.
The resignation of Neville Roach, who was close to Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, was a blow to the government, which has vowed not to be swayed by the eight-day hunger strike at the Woomera center in the South Australian desert.
A total of 202 refugees, including 36 under the age of 18, are protesting the long delays in the assessment of their asylum applications. More than 60 have sewn up their lips in a dramatic gesture that has caused widespread alarm.
Seven others, thought to be Iranian, were taken to a hospital on Tuesday after swallowing a cocktail of shampoo, detergent and painkillers.
Mr. Ruddock said yesterday that at least five children would be removed from the center and placed in foster care for their own protection, amid claims that some youths were being harmed by adults to draw attention to the refugees' demands.
One 12-year-old boy was reported to have had his lips sewn together twice, against his will and with the full knowledge of his parents.
Mr. Ruddock said that between five and eight unaccompanied children ages 14 and under would be removed "from a situation of vulnerability." Another seven suspected to have been abused would be closely monitored.
"Alternative arrangements are needed to protect some children from the coercion of other adults," he said.
As concern mounted over the welfare of children at the center, many analysts blamed the deepening crisis on the government's immigration policies, which include the mandatory incarceration of all those who arrive in Australia illegally.
Mr. Roach, a well-regarded immigration adviser, has emerged as one of the more unexpected critics. He has stepped down as chairman of the government-appointed Council for Multicultural Australia, claiming that Canberra's stance was prompting prejudice and vilification.
He said compassion seemed to have been ignored. "I think the way in which the government has handled these issues has tended to give comfort to the prejudiced side of human nature.
"The greater tragedy is that the vilification, abuse and violence that has resulted has not been directed exclusively toward asylum seekers, but to the wider Islamic community and people of Middle Eastern appearance.

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