January 15, 2015 | the guardian
Detainees on the island say they are ‘prepared for death’ as hunger strike swells and video of a man collapsing emerges.
An asylum seeker has reportedly swallowed razor blades in protest at his detention, as the number of men on hunger strike on Manus Island continues to grow.
Detainees on the island say they are “prepared for death”.
A video sent to Guardian Australia from inside Mike compound shows a man collapsing, reportedly after swallowing three razor blades.
Guardian Australia has been sent photo evidence of at least nine men with their lips stitched shut, but has been told that up to 20 have sewn their lips in protest.
Detainees say up to 500 men – half the population of the detention centre – are refusing all food and water.
In Mike compound, where the protest began, men are refusing to return to their dorms, instead sleeping in an open, covered area.
There is still no running water for showers. The bathrooms are littered with discarded drinking water bottles that have been given to detainees for bathing.
Up to 60% of the locally-employed guards have walked off the job in recent weeks, protesting at not being paid. It is understood they are now being paid again.
The man who swallowed razor blades is a 40-year-old Egyptian Christian. Before swallowing the razor blades he told fellow detainees his final wish was see his daughter and sister again before he died.
The man’s daughter and sister came to Australia as refugees and are now Australian citizens living in Sydney.
“I want to die”, a fellow detainee reported the man as saying. “I just have one option, I just want to see my daughter and my sister … I miss them. I have to see them.”
Another detainee told the ABC he watched the man’s condition deteriorate rapidly after swallowing the razors.
“His body become white, his skin become totally white … and his leg … become blue, so terrible.”
The video obtained by Guardian Australia appears to shows the man collapsing.
The man is lying on the ground in the middle of Mike compound. He is not responsive to the efforts of fellow detainees and one security guard to assist him.
His wife told Guardian Australia she was “so worried he will die, he will be killed by [the] Australian government”.
The situation on Manus Island has been steadily deteriorating. Detainees say the hunger strike will be their final act of defiance.
“Frustrated refugees are tired of being mistreated and not heard after 18 months in inhumane detention [and have] decided to act for the last time,” one told Guardian Australia.
“Their previous peaceful demonstration ended up with the murder of an Iranian asylum seeker and over 70 casualties containing one being shot and two lost eyes by Australian government. This time … all strikers prepared themselves for death … this kind of death is so much honourable than to be killed in PNG.”
The motives for the protest are complex, and not uniform.
Some detainees say they are protesting at having been held in detention for up to 18 months without their asylum claims being processed.
Others are angry at the conditions under which they are being held.
Reports from media organisations, human rights groups, government inquiries and the Australian parliament have highlighted inadequate healthcare, poor food and a lack of clean water, sewage pooling on the ground and allegations of brutal treatment by guards.
Other men are fearful of being moved from the detention centre into the local community “refugee transit centre” at nearby Lorengau.
Local people regularly threaten detainees and have warned refugees they will not survive if released into the community.
A year ago, during riots at the detention centre, asylum seeker Reza Barati was murdered, allegedly by two local men who invaded the centre. They have been arrested but have yet to face trial.
Ben Pynt, of the advocacy group Humanitarian Research Partners, said he had urged detainees not to go on hunger strike, but said they were desperate and saw no other avenue for protest.
“These men have been in detention 450 days, and nothing has happened. They have been without food, without water, they have been attacked physically and mentally, and they have been coerced every single day to return to the countries from where they fled.
“And now they just can’t handle detention any more. And it is the Australian government’s responsibility to ensure they are safe.”
After denying for two days the hunger strike even existed, the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, was forced to concede that detainees were not eating and drinking.
A spokesman for the minister told Fairfax Media “there are … a number of transferees who are refusing food and fluids, again, they are being offered appropriate support”.
Dutton’s office confirmed a “small number” of asylum seekers had engaged in self-harm.
The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young condemned the government’s secrecy surrounding Manus and its denials.
“The minister has been hiding all week. It is time he was upfront about what is going on.
“If there is nothing to hide he should open the gates and let the media in and allow people to speak freely and without fear.”
Meanwhile, the Iranian asylum seeker on hunger strike in Darwin has been discharged from hospital but remains resolute in his protest.
The man, who has not been named, was taken to hospital for treatment of cellulitis in his foot from infected mosquito and midge bites suffered while in detention at the Wickham Point facility.
Cellulitis is the infection that killed fellow Iranian asylum seeker Hamid Kehazaei in September.
Doctors kept the 33-year-old under observation and treatment for six days. He was not in hospital because of his hunger strike, although the man’s lawyer, John Lawrence, said it had obviously affected his health.
Lawrence told Guardian Australia the man remained steadfast in his hunger strike, which he restarted 18 days ago. The man – who has family in Iran – had previously gone 53 days without food, before being convinced to eat shortly before Christmas. Just days later he began again.
He has been in Australia’s immigration system for more than four years in what Lawrence described as a “protracted” process. His initial claim for asylum was rejected, then successfully appealed against, but a second evaluation again denied his claim. Documents have been filed with the federal court for a second appeal but he has no expectations.
“He’s given up on ever receiving a protection visa,” Lawrence said.
“He’s of the belief the government will never give him one, so in that regard he has lost and they have won.”
He is protesting against his treatment and that of other asylum seekers by the Australian immigration department. It is believed another 35 unsuccessful Iranian asylum seekers are in the same legal limbo because they refuse to go back but Iran will not accept involuntary returns.
“Specific deterrence for this man has certainly won out. But in view of his journey from May 2010 until now … that’s why he has chosen to take this extreme action in protest,” Lawrence said.