Asylum seekers sent by Australia to the tiny island of Nauru entered the fifth day of a hunger strike Monday, vowing to continue their protest indefinitely, refugee advocates said.
The asylum seekers, men mostly from Sri Lanka but also from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq who arrived in Australia by boat, are protesting their detention on the tiny Pacific state where accommodation is basic.
“They talk increasingly actually of the hunger strike being indefinite,” refugee campaigner Ian Rintoul told AFP.
“They want the government to close Nauru, they want to be taken back to Australia and most importantly, they want their processing to begin immediately.”
Rintoul, who is in contact with the men, said some 300 of the about 380 asylum-seekers on the island were taking part in the hunger strike and around 55 had suffered ill-effects or received treatment.
But the immigration department said no detainees had been hospitalised and only about 12 to 15 people had been treated on site by late on Sunday.
“We acknowledge there are people on voluntary starvation and we take that very seriously, and we are monitoring the situation,” an immigration department spokesman told AFP.
“But the numbers that are being quoted by advocates are incorrect.”
The spokesman also disputed the number of people involved in the hunger strike, saying it did not correlate with the amount of meals, snacks and drinks being consumed by the detainees.
Canberra decided to send boatpeople to Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island in mid-August to deter them from making the dangerous journey to Australia after scores of drownings en route.
Those sent there have been warned it could be years before their claims for asylum are processed.
The policy, implemented along with a lifting of Australia’s refugee intake, was designed to stem the record influx of people-smuggling boats arriving, many of them crowded wooden fishing vessels which leave from Indonesia.
In a statement released by Rintoul’s Refugee Action Collective, the asylum seekers on Nauru claimed they were not being treated fairly and that being on the island was affecting them physically and mentally.
“This bitter reality torture(s) us 24 hours,” they wrote.
“In our home land we were in a danger of being tortured physically, but here we are facing mental tortured (sic).”
Five more boatloads of asylum seekers arrived in Australia over the weekend, bringing with them an estimated 319 people. More than 13,500 boatpeople have arrived in Australia since January 1.