No End in Sight for Nauru Asylum-Seekers
At the end of last week, 30 more people joined the hunger strike. There are now five people who have been on hunger strike for over three weeks and one person, Omid, who has been on strike for more than 45 days. He is now refusing water.
Another person, Wasam who earlier suffered kidney failure, was flown on Friday to Australia for treatment.
The number of new people undertaking the hunger strike came after another interesting week of debate in Australia around people seeking asylum. At the start of the week it was announced that all the off-shore detention centres are full (the camps on Nauru and Manus are still not built, people are being housed in tents), and that nearly 8,000 people have sought to seek asylum in Australia since the policy of off-shore detention was re-introduced in August. It was announced that a detention centre in Tasmania would be re-opened and one in Melbourne expanded.
A new policy was also announced, one reminiscent of Howard's 'Temporary Protection Visas'.
Gilliard's government announced the use of 'bridging visas'. That is, all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat, and have arrived since Nauru was re-opened, will be denied permanent protection visas for up to five years even if they are found to be genuine refugees and regardless of whether their claims are processed in Australia, Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. People on bridging visas will not be allowed to work, will receive only minimal financial aid and will not be eligible for family reunion rights. When the visa expires, a person's refugee status will be reassessed and if it is found they are no longer in need of protection, they can then be deported.
After Amnesty International's visit to the camp on Nauru and various media articles about the conditions the people are being held in there, the Nauruan Foreign Minister and an Australian Immigration representative also visited the camp. The first visit was adjourned because of torrential rain; the tents leak - there was up to a foot of water in some of the tents. On the Saturday visit the following day, the asylum seekers were told that initial interviews for the bridging visas would begin that day. People walked out of the meeting in disgust and reported that they wanted fairness.
An asylum seeker being detained on Nauru told the Sydney Refugee Action Coalition that;
“We walked out of the meeting. We have rejected the interviews. There are now thirty people on hunger strike. Some started yesterday, more started this morning. Many of us are also not drinking water.”
“Australia says it wants to save lives in the sea, but it will not save the lives on Nauru. It is better to finish this quickly. The camp is flooded, tents are leaking. This is Nauru hell. It is better to die."
Meanwhile on Manus Island, the camp there may be without electricity next week. The people of the area have announced that they will shut down electricity to the camp. There have already been protests over the re-opening of the camp and Papua New Guinea riot police have been sent to the area. The local community are angry that the security firm G4S was given contracts to run the site.
Transfield hold the contract to run Nauru.
Australia ratified the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, this prohibits the punishment and penalizing of refugees on account of their illegal entry or presence in a country that is a signatory to the Convention.
The Australian government must learn that seeking asylum is a right. No one is illegal.
A brief over-view of Australia's immigration policy can be read here.