February 07, 2015 | the guardian
Detainee known as Martin started latest hunger strike in late December in protest at his planned deportation to his homeland.
The Iranian asylum seeker who started a hunger strike on 8 November last year in Darwin has reportedly lost the ability to walk or stand unaided, but says he is determined to maintain his protest. Fifteen fellow Iranians detained alongside him are also refusing food.
Known as Martin, the Iranian man arrived in Australia four years ago and, until recently, had been living in the community on a bridging visa.
However, Australian authorities determined he was not eligible for a protection visa and he was re-detained, ahead of his planned deportation, last August.
But he has refused to agree to be returned to Iran, saying he fears persecution in his homeland. Iran does not accept its citizens being returned against their will, and so Martin faces indefinite detention in Australia.
He began his hunger strike on 8 November last year. He stopped in late December, after 53 days without food, but resumed the strike four days later. He has refused all food since, and is only drinking water.
Martin’s lawyer, John Lawrence, told Guardian Australia his client remained resolute.
“The [immigration] department continues to pressure him to end his protest, trying to persuade him to resume eating. It’s in the same vein in which they’ve been pressuring him since August last year to return to Iran voluntarily.”
However, sources inside the centre said Martin collapsed at the weekend, and was taken to hospital. Since being returned to the detention centre other detainees say he cannot walk and is struggling to stand.
Martin’s case will go before the federal court for review next Thursday.
The judicial review will assess whether the treatment of Martin, and his refugee status determination, was made in accordance with law. It is not a review of the facts of his circumstance.
Fifteen of Martin’s fellow detainees – all Iranian, and all similarly refusing forcible repatriation – are also on hunger strike. Like Martin, they have been found by immigration authorities not to raise Australia’s protection obligations.
One hunger-striking asylum seeker said: “Last two months we [are] separated from family. We ask to be where family and friends are but they say ‘no, you must stay in Darwin until you agree [to] go home’.
“We stay in Darwin long time, our relationships [are] destroyed. If we could go home we would do so. We tell them ‘we give you evidence our lives [are] in danger’ but they say ‘go home, Australian people do not want you here’.”
A manager at the Wickham Point detention centre reportedly told those striking: “We won’t do anything for you while you are on hunger strike. We don’t care if you die”.
Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, said the government’s “contemptuous attitude” was worsening an already volatile situation.
“It is a damning indictment of government policy that Martin is driven to hunger strike to death. The government’s policy of re-detaining those they cannot remove brings a whole new level of brutality to the detention regime.”
Richard Kidd, co-founder of Doctors for Refugees, said an extended hunger strike carried substantial risk, even before the final critical stages and death.
“Obviously, if this man continues his hunger strike he is going to die, but there are very significant risks before that. Basically the body has to start digesting itself to stay alive.”
“Fat reserves and muscle tissue are consumed by the body before the body starts to ‘digest’ its own vital organs. A person’s kidneys and liver are affected first, followed by the heart and brain,” Dr Kidd said.
“Some of the damage that is done during an extended hunger strike is irreparable. If a person aborts a hunger strike, they can be left with serious chronic health issues, from kidney failure, to liver or heart problems, to brain damage.”
The Australian Medical Association and World Medical Association have established guidelines on treatment for people in custodial settings who refuse food. Hunger-strikers should be assessed for depressive or other mental illnesses that could impair their decision-making. Those found to be making a rational judgment to hunger strike should be informed of the consequences of their actions.
“So these people know what is going to happen to them, they know what this is doing to their bodies. It is an indication of how desperate and despairing they are. They are essentially choosing death ahead of remaining in their current situation.”
A two-week mass hunger strike in the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Manus Island in PNG ended 11 days ago. The centre remains under increased security restrictions, and detainees have had their phones and personal possessions taken from them.
A spokeswoman for the department of immigration told Guardian Australia: “All departmental staff and service providers are obligated to treat detainees with respect and dignity at all times”.
“A wide range of food and fluids are provided and offered to detainees, including to those who may be engaging in food and fluid refusal.
“A small number of individuals are engaged in food and fluid refusal, but it is not appropriate to provide further details of protest action.
“The Department of Immigration and Border Protection takes advice on medical issues from its health services provider.”