Asia

Hunger strike in Australia asylum camp in Nauru

  • 5 November 2012
  • From the section Asia
Asylum camp
Australian troops have worked to reopen the Nauru camp, with people housed in tents

A hunger strike by asylum seekers on the Pacific island of Nauru has entered a fifth day, weeks after Australia re-opened its processing camp there.

A refugee advocate said about 300 people were refusing food. A government spokesman said numbers were fluctuating and some meals were being eaten.

A "small number" had been treated for dehydration and heat exhaustion, the immigration department spokesman said.

Australia reintroduced its offshore processing policy in September.

The controversial policy - whereby asylum seekers arriving by boat are removed from Australia to camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea while their claims are assessed - was abandoned by the ruling Labor Party in 2008.

But the government revived it earlier this year as asylum seeker arrivals increased, saying it was intended to deter people from making the dangerous journey to Australia by boat.

'Indefinite'

Since the camp on Nauru was reopened in early September, more than 370 asylum seekers - mostly from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan - have been transferred there. They are currently living in tents while more permanent structures are built.

Ian Rintoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said the protesters wanted Nauru to be closed and processing of their asylum claims to start.

"They talk increasingly, actually, of the hunger strike being indefinite," he said, warning that there was "a serious situation developing" that had to be addressed.

The senior Department of Immigration official on Nauru had met the protesters on Sunday to hear their concerns, the spokesman said, but had made it clear protest action would not affect decisions on cases.

In the past, detainees on Nauru conducted multiple hunger strikes in protest at both the length of their detention and the conditions in which they lived.

In recent days both Labor and the opposition have suggested that asylum seekers will have to spend as long as five years in camps while their claims are processed.

Professor Gillian Triggs, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, told Radio Australia last week that such a move amounted to "arbitrary detention of asylum seekers", something she called "unacceptable" and an "egregious breach of refugee law".

On Sunday, the immigration department said 11 men had chosen to return to Sri Lanka rather than pursue asylum claims from Nauru.

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