November 06, 2012
TENSION is mounting among asylum seekers on Nauru, with hunger strikers protesting against ”hell-hole” conditions that are set to get worse with seven boats carrying 413 asylum seekers having been intercepted since Saturday.
Contracts for a new detention camp on Nauru will be awarded soon, and work is expected to commence soon afterwards, the Immigration Department says.
The 377 detainees on Nauru have been living in tents on the island, and have staged an increasingly impassioned protest, seeking to come to Australia to have their claims for asylum heard.
But there have been mixed reports about the hunger strikes engulfing the camp. The men – who have set up a Facebook page to take their plight to Australians – and refugee advocates say 300 people are now taking part in the hunger strike.
The detainees wrote: ”In Modern Period nobody wanna like keep even domestic animal in a tent at 42 Celsius temperature for a months, but the Human being are still living in hell hole Nauru.
”The Asylum seekers in Nauru think once they have taken the risk of deep Indian ocean, now they will take the risk during hunger strikes, untill getting their rights till the death.”
The hunger strike entered its fifth day on Monday.
Another man, an Iranian identified by fellow asylum seekers as Omid, was up to his 25th day of hunger strike, the group said.
But the Department of Immigration has consistently cast doubts on the men’s accounts of the protest.
A department spokesman said: ”[The] department knows at least 200 meals have been claimed at meal times, and large amounts of snack food throughout the day.”
The department does not use the term ”hunger strikes”, but defines ”voluntary starvation” as people missing three consecutive meals. It says food and water are provided to asylum seekers at all times. We know steps are being taken to make sure people who don’t want to take part can eat,” the spokesman said.
”We know there’s been a degree of pressure from people who’ve been unwilling to take part in the protest.”
He confirmed that a senior immigration officer had met with the detainees at the weekend, but said it was stressed to the group that ”these sort of activities” would not alter their situation. One of the asylum seekers on Nauru told the Refugee Action Coalition that the official ”did not have answers” for them, aside from the fact they would be processed according to Nauruan law, and Nauru would be responsible for resettling them.
The Immigration Department spokesman could not confirm this, but said the group was told it would be at least six months before their claims for asylum were processed, in accordance with Australian policy.
Amnesty International said the situation confirmed the need for an independent monitor on the island.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said a Coalition government would not rule out expanding the Nauru camps, even to more than 15,000 capacity – 50 per cent more than Nauru’s population. ”I would do what is necessary to stop the boats because if you can’t stop the boats, you can’t govern the country,” he said.
In a statement on Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister confirmed authorities have intercepted three more boats at Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
The ACV Triton, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, intercepted three suspected asylum seeker boats on Monday, with initial reports suggesting they carried eight, 24 and 26 people.
The 58 will be taken to Christmas Island, where they will undergo security and health checks. This follows the arrival of four other boats carrying 355 asylum seekers on the weekend and early Monday.
Meanwhile, refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said two asylum seekers had been handed summonses to appear at a Nauru court on November 19, ”presumably” over a protest in September that led to property damage. A spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Police said the AFP had no operational jurisdiction in Nauru, and the matter was a question for the Nauru Police Force.