November 01, 2012
A group of 170 asylum seekers are taking part in a mass hunger strike on Nauru.
The Department of Immigration says it has been told the group, which represent almost half the asylum seekers on the island, began their hunger strike today.
”There are about 170 asylum seekers in the regional processing centre who are engaged in a peaceful protest,” as spokeswoman said.
”They have also indicated they have stopped eating meals. [But] it is important to note [that] just because people have said they are not eating meals does not mean they have engaged in voluntary starvation.”
The National Times has been unable to reach asylum seekers on Nauru. But refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said he had been contacted by asylum seekers on the island, who told him they planned to take part in the hunger strike for an ”unknown time”.
”This is a clear message that we are not happy here, we want to go back from this Hell to Australia and we request to the Australia government to start our processing,” the group wrote.
The department spokeswoman said authorities made food and water available to detainees at all times, and service workers were monitoring the situation.
Mr Rintoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, said asylum seekers had told him their chief demands were to be taken to Australia, and for their claims for refugee status to be processes immediately.
”We are not criminals,” Mr Rintoul quoted one asylum seeker as saying. ”We did nothing wrong. We did not come to Nauru. We came to Australia for protection.”
Mr Rintoul said the situation on the island was explosive.
”Asylum seekers have been left with no idea when their claims will be processed and what will be their ultimate fate. They have no choice but to protest.”
Immigration officials today also confirmed that six asylum seekers had opted to return to their home countries and not pursue their claims for asylum in Australia.
The four Iraqis and two Iranians — all men — chose to return voluntarily instead of waiting for their claims to be processed on Nauru.
Since August this year, when the government restarted offshore processing, 82 people have voluntarily decided to go home.
Federal Parliament today approved the construction of a permanent immigration detention centre on Nauru.
Special Minister of State Gary Gray told the lower house that the urgent nature of the works meant they needed to be approved without going through the usual committee examination. His motion passed unopposed.
On Wednesday, the lower house passed legislation to appropriate $267 million to build asylum seeker processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.
The Nauruan centre will eventually have space for 1500 people. Currently the 400 or so asylum seekers on the island are staying in tents.
There have been growing concerns among refugee advocates about hunger strikes on Nauru and incidents of self-harm.
Advocates have also reported that conditions on the camp are hot and unbearable, with very little shade.
with Judith Ireland and AAP