SYDNEY - Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Friday he was worried about the ‘volatile situation’ at a Papua New Guinea asylum-seeker camp after reports that detainees were swallowing razor blades and washing powder.

Australia sends asylum-seekers who try to enter the country by boat to offshore detention centres on Papua New Guinea and Nauru in the Pacific with no prospect of being settled on the mainland, even if they are genuine refugees. More than 400 boat people on Manus Island in PNG have gone on hunger strike protesting their detention, living conditions and the possibility of being permanently resettled in the Pacific nation, refugee advocates and reports said.

‘I think this is a very serious situation,’ Dutton told reporters. ‘I’m worried about developments over the course of the last 24 hours.

I’m concerned about what I’ve learnt in the last hour or so. And the situation is volatile there’s no question about that.’ He would not elaborate on what the developments were, but refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said up to 40 men had sewn their lips together, while three others had swallowed razor blades and four had consumed washing powder.

Rintoul claimed late Friday after Dutton’s comments that security guards at the camp had attacked and beaten the protesters, although this could not be independently confirmed. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said it had video from inside the detention centre showing what appeared to be two men being taken away on stretchers after consuming washing powder. Other footage showed asylum-seekers chanting for freedom. Dutton, who took on the immigration portfolio in December after a cabinet reshuffle, called on the asylum-seekers to resolve their concerns peacefully and said his appointment did not reflect a shift away from the government’s hardline policies.

‘Whilst there has been a change of minister, the absolute resolve of me as the new minister and of the government is to make sure that for those transferees, they will never arrive in Australia,’ he said. ‘I ask people to listen to the directions that they are being given by the staff and by the officers on the ground, so that we can deal with issues peacefully.’ The minister would not comment on individual cases, but confirmed there were a ‘number of incidents of self-harm within Manus’ and the asylum-seekers involved were provided with medical help and support.

The protests come a month before the first anniversary of a riot at the camp, which left Iranian Reza Barati dead and 69 injured after tensions flared among inmates about their fate. PNG police in August charged two men over Barati’s murder. The violence was described in a parliamentary report in December as ‘eminently foreseeable’ and mostly caused by delays in processing refugee claims. Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said the asylum-seekers were worried about their safety at the camp in the wake of last year’s riot. ‘The department can’t hide the fact that there is a gaping hole at the end of its offshore processing policies,’ he said in a statement. ‘PNG is not safe and the PNG government has no political will to allow secure resettlement in PNG.’ Some 1,035 men are held on Manus Island, according to immigration figures ending December 31. No women and children are detained in the facility. A total of 895 asylum-seekers - 596 men, 164 women and 135 children - are held on Nauru.