More than 100 people rallied in the heart of Canberra on Thursday night to express their disgust with the treatment of asylum seekers on Manus Island.
The Canberra Refugee Action Committee organised the one-hour protest in the middle of Northborne Avenue as a sign of solidarity, after the Manus Island hunger strike escalated on Monday when security forces stormed the Delta compound, arresting 58 men.
On Wednesday, refugee advocates said the number of men detained in Lorengau jail had reached 76.
However, the strike shows no signs of abating. Two men found to be refugees have moved voluntarily to new temporary accommodation as part of the country's first step to resettlement. The two men were not involved in the hunger strikes.
John Minns, ✓associate professor in politics and international relations at the Australian National University, said the action group was not surprised by escalating tension on Manus Island and hoped Thursday's protest would show the strong objection to offshore processing in the Canberra community.
"So-called processing centres, offshore detention centres, are inevitably creating enormous damage to the people in them. They have no option but to take desperate measures," Dr Minns said.
"There is a very significant number of people in the community who still object to what's being done to asylum seekers in our name and who are not prepared to accept what will be done in our name."
Dr Minns, who called for the Manus Island centre to be closed, said recent events like the Sydney siege in December and the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier this month had created a fear of increased intolerance and xenophobia.
Immigration issues had become a base for political point-scoring that played on society's worst instincts, he said.
Long-time asylum seeker advocate Sister Jane Keogh was among protesters at the rally. She said she feared the government's secrecy around asylum seekers and the impact the Abbott government's rhetoric was having on those less familiar with the issue.
"You have to put yourself into the their [the asylum seekers'] shoes. The only power they have is over their own body," she said.
ACT Greens minister Shane Rattenbury also protested the Coalition's "heartless" policies.
Mark Stoove and his children Elise, 15 and Liam, 11 were among protesters joined by the odd cyclist and countless car horn beeps.
Liam said he didn't like to see asylum seekers locked up in offshore processing centres.
"They came here for safety and we lock them up. We're locking up innocent people who have done nothing wrong," he said.
Elise said she was concerned by reports of self harm on the island.
"I'm really scared for them as well. They're scared for themselves being released into Papau New Guinea."
Meanwhile, 94 children and 100 family members who were promised to be moved off Christmas Island and into the community by former immigration minister Scott Morrison remain in Darwin's Blaydin Point Alternative Place of Detention.