November 07, 2012
A hunger strike involving hundreds of asylum seekers on Nauru is about to enter its second week amid mounting criticism of Australia’s border protection policy.
Refugee advocates say around 300 people have been refusing food since last Thursday, although Immigration Department officials dispute that figure.
Departmental spokesman Sandi Logan says about 60 or 70 asylum seekers are staging a peaceful protest in the centre’s recreation area, and one person has now been refusing food for 27 days.
“There has been one client on a long-term voluntary starvation for an extended period of time,” Mr Logan told ABC radio’s The World Today.
“He is getting care, he is being monitored very closely by the health services provider.”
Some facilities in the detention centre have been shut down as a result of the protest, including the gym, library and some education rooms.
The Salvation Army, which is at the centre at the request of the Government, has temporarily withdrawn staff from frontline positions as a result of the protest.
“This has been an operational procedure since day one, that when there is an active protest happening, the Salvation Army staff are not present in the main centre and we wait outside until that protest is over,” the organisation’s Major Paul Moulds told ABC Radio Australia.
“It’s a policy put in by the security provisions… (but) we are looking to have it reviewed only because we feel we can even contribute to something at those times.”
The hunger strike is in response to the prospect of long delays in having their refugee claims processed, something the Government has committed to as it implements the recommendations of the expert panel on asylum seekers.
Human Rights Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs says the policy is a breach of the detainees’ human rights and will cause long-term harm.
“The fact that their claims are not being processed at the moment – and maybe not for many months – and that there’s literally no end to the potential period of time that they will be held on the island, they are causing very, very serious inabilities to cope and I think ultimately will lead to serious mental illness and to disturbances,” Professor Triggs told ABC Radio National.
Nauruan resident Clint Deidenang has told ABC News Online the temperature on the island is very hot for most of the day.
So far, dozens of asylum seekers have been treated for dehydration.