Australia's asylum seekers say hunger strike goes on

Authorities say protest was brought to peaceful end while activists say camp was 'attacked'

Australia's asylum seekers say hunger strike goes on
World Bulletin / News Desk
 
Asylum seekers at the Manus Island detention center Tuesday said they would continue their hunger strike despite the Australian government’s claim that the protest had been ended, local media said.

Refugee campaigners in contact with asylum seekers said hundreds are carrying on their hunger strike, with many also refusing water, ABC News reported.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton criticized campaigners for inflaming the situation in the center in Papua New Guinea – one of Australia’s off-shore camps for asylum seekers.

He accused the media of “irresponsible reporting” and claimed refugee activists had circulated “false and irresponsible claims.”

Uninformed, factually incorrect reports only served to “aggravate the situation and do not assist with its peaceful resolution,” Dutton said.

On Monday, a stand-off between security guards from Australian contractor Transfield Services and detainees ended when guards, reportedly in riot gear, broke through the barricaded gate of one of the camp’s four compounds.

ABC said the three-day blockade of Delta compound ended when the guards forced the gate and Papua New Guinea's Chief Migration Officer Mataio Rabura negotiated an end to the protest.

Refugee supporters denied the end of the protest had been negotiated and said protest leaders had been forcibly seized by guards.

"What happened in Delta, it really scared us but we are not going to stop our hunger strike, it will continue," an asylum seeker from Foxtrot compound told the broadcaster.

Papua New Guinea police said more than 40 asylum seekers were detained in Lorengau prison but asylum seekers said a higher number had been arrested.

"Right now we are 58 people inside the PNG jail and PNG police squad they beat [us]... they are torturing us in here and they put us here without any judge warrant," ABC quoted one man, who said he was among those imprisoned.

Up to 700 detainees had been on hunger strike in protest at conditions in the camp and a plan to settle some of them in Papua New Guinea, where they fear being attacked in a society with high levels of violence and crime. Campaigners said a similar number were still on strike.

The protest had seen men inside two compounds collapsing and becoming dangerously ill.

Refugee advocates said up to 40 detainees had sewn their lips together and there were unsubstantiated reports of detainees swallowing razor blades and washing powder.

The Refugee Action Coalition claimed Delta compound, which it said had been “deprived of water for 24 hours,” was “attacked” by a riot squad.

The coalition, which received photographs and videos shot on mobile phones, said detainees were handcuffed and dragged along the ground.

Spokesman Ian Rintoul said Tuesday that the footage was “putting the lie to the official claim that there was a negotiated end to the blockade.”

Refugee advocate Sally Thompson told Fairfax Media that armed guards stormed the Delta compound to search for protest ringleaders. "There are quite a lot of injuries among the asylum seekers," she said.

Denying some of the claims, Dutton said: “Transferees are not being refused food and water – the actions of some transferees are actively preventing the delivery of food, water and medical services to others who are not participating in the protest.”

He told ABC some detainees had armed themselves with "home-fashioned weapons" but said there were no serious injuries during Monday’s incident.

The Australian government has banned media access to the center, making it difficult to verify reports.

Last year Iranian asylum seeker Reza Barati, 23, was killed during violent protests at the camp, with the Australian Senate reporting last month that the government had failed to protect detainees.

The breakdown of the asylum seekers’ nationalities is not known but statistics released in October last year show that Iranians make up the single largest group held in Australia’s detention network. Around 1,035 men are held on Manus Island, according to last month’s immigration figures. No women or children are detained in the camp.

 

Last Mod: 20 Ocak 2015, 22:17
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