SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian police on Monday used metal cutters to remove five protesters who had chained themselves to the gate of the prime minister's official residence over the treatment of asylum seekers detained in Papua New Guinea.
Papua New Guinea police last week expelled about 400 protesting asylum-seekers from a shuttered Australian-run detention camp on Manus Island. The United Nations decried the crackdown as "shocking".
The Manus Island detention camp, and another in the South Pacific island nation of Nauru, have been cornerstones of Australia's policy under which it refuses to allow asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores.
The policy, aimed at deterring people from making a perilous sea voyage to Australia, has been heavily criticised by the United Nations and human rights groups but has bipartisan political support in Australia.
But some people, including some Christian groups, object to it.
"It's our hope that as church leaders we can actually respond ... in non-violent ways, in peaceful ways that actually highlight the issue and do justice to the beauty and the courage of the men on Manus Island," said one of the protesters, Jarod Mckenna, who said he was a Christian pastor.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull does not live in the official residence and he was not there during the three-hour protest which ended when police ordered the five to keep still while the chains were cut from around their necks.
They were then taken away in a police vehicle. There were no reports of injuries, police said.
Australia says allowing asylum seekers arriving by boat to reach its shores would only encourage people smugglers in Asia and see more people risk their lives trying to reach Australia.
Australia closed the Manus Island detention centre on Oct. 31, after it was declared illegal by a Papua New Guinea court.
The asylum-seekers, who have said they fear for their safety as well as being resettled in Papua New Guinea or another developing country, were taken to transit centres.
Australia has rejected an offer from New Zealand to resettle 150 of the men, and is instead aiming to sending up to 1,250 of them to the United States under a swap deal.
"So many people feel hopeless," Kurdish journalist and Manus Island detainee Behrouz Boochani told Reuters by text message from one of the transit centres.
Papua New Guinea immigration and police officials did not return Reuters' telephone calls or emails.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook and James Redmayne; Additional reporting by James Regan; Editing by Robert Birsel)