Asylum seeker charged over 'bomb on plane' scare in Australia

Asylum seeker was on flight to centre where frustrated detainees are on hunger strike

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 11:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 January, 2014, 11:05pm


An asylum seeker has been charged over an alleged incident on a flight to Australia's Christmas Island, police said yesterday, with reports that he claimed to have a bomb.

The incident came as a senator said a "large number" of detainees on Christmas Island had launched a hunger strike, with some sewing their lips together in protest at the length of time they were being kept at an immigration centre there.

Australian Federal Police said yesterday that a 27-year-old Lebanese man was charged under a section of the Crimes Act which relates to false threats or statements related to destroying, damaging or endangering an aircraft and those onboard.

A large number are on hunger strike … a few have sewn their lips together

The police "can confirm a referral was received … 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 statement said. "The detainee has been charged under the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991." Reports said the man became upset while flying from Perth to Christmas Island, Australia's remote Indian Ocean territory which houses the country's main immigration processing centre.

The man made statements which worried staff, including that he had a bomb, The Australian newspaper said, although it added that those familiar with the case said it was obvious the man did not have an explosive device.

The case comes as about 2,000 asylum-seekers remain on Christmas Island, where tensions are mounting among detainees.

Sarah Hanson-Young, a Greens senator, said asylum seekers were frustrated at the length of time they were in detention. "Sources inside are telling me there's a large number of people on hunger strike, including a few people who have disturbingly sewn their lips together," she said.

Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said he was aware of one man on Christmas Island who had stitched his lips together after being separated from his brother and his family.

Rintoul said detainees had been told they have no chance of resettlement in Australia, and will be sent to camps on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island or Nauru.

Under Australia's policies to stop asylum seekers arriving in the country by sea, Canberra is refusing to accept any would-be refugees who arrive on people-smuggling boats, sending them instead to the Pacific camps.