Ten detainees have sewn their lips shut at Christmas Island detention centre, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has confirmed.

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“This is distressing for me and most of the Australian people,” he told reporters in Sydney on Friday.

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Mr Bowen confirmed that 160 people were engaged in a peaceful protest and 10 of whom have sewn shut their lips.

He said they had declined medical and psychological assistance.

Mr Bowen warned the protesters their actions would be futile.

“Applications to come and stay in Australia are dealt on their merit. They cannot and will not be changed by any protests,” he said.

“A protest such as this will not achieve the desired outcome.”

Mr Bowen said he had no plans to visit the centre outside of regular scheduled visits.

“I would like to express my support for the staff at Christmas Island and the government stands with them on this matter.”

Earlier on Friday, Social Justice Network (SJN) spokesman Jamal Daoud said about 250 detainees were on a hunger strike for a third day at the centre.

The detainees – believed to be Iraqis, Iranian Kurds, Palestinians and Algerians – declared a hunger strike immediately after they heard about the death of an Iraqi detainee, Ahmad Al Akabi, in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre on Tuesday.

About 22 detainees at the Villawood centre started eating again on Thursday, two days after they went on a hunger strike following Mr Al Akabi’s suicide.

There were chaotic scenes at the centre on Wednesday, sparked by the death of Mr Al Akabi, who had been in detention for more than a year.

Villawood was put into lockdown after a mattress was set alight and chairs and garbage bins were hurled onto spot fires.