Up to 700 asylum seekers are now on hunger strike on Manus Island, the site where the Australian Government dumps its asylum-seekers indefinitely. The detainees are demanding their refugee claims be processed and are refusing to be settled in Papua New Guinea because they believe they will not be safe. After up to 18 months in detention, many protesters have asked to be handed over to the custody of the UN. At Camp Delta no water had been delivered to the compound and the asylum seekers had to burrow under the perimeter fence to reach bottled water left outside. On Saturday more than 200 asylum seekers were taken to the medical centre for treatment after collapsing in their compounds.
UPDATE: Today, just after 4pm, Manus Island time, guards in riot gear entered Delta and Oscar compounds in an attempt to end the week-long hunger strike by snatching alleged ringleaders.
At times the asylum seekers have been left lying unconscious in their compounds or left the ground outside the make-shift field clinic because there are not enough stretchers or mattresses for the numbers requiring treatment. Another two people swallowed washing powder in the early hours of this morning. Two supposedly ‘ring-leaders’ have also been taken into the notorious isolation unit of Chauka.
A letter (see image above and text below) signed by over 80 asylum seekers in Foxtrot Compound has spelled out their fears about resettlement in PNG.
“As the asylum seekers’ letter says, there is a disaster happening on Manus Island,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the ([Australian] Refugee Action Coalition. “The real fears of the asylum seekers can’t be ignored. There is no viable prospect for refugees to be resettled in PNG. The first step is to stop the forced removal of refugees to insecure temporary housing on 22 January. There needs to be urgent discussions about possible third country resettlement. The asylum seekers are asking for the UNHCR to be involved with resettlement discussions. The ball is in the Minister’s court. He can keep pretending that the protests aren’t happening or he can act to prevent the unfolding disaster.”
Foxtrot compound letter:
“To whom it may concern… It is been a week that hundreds of asylum seekers of Australia are on hunger and water and it is because of 18 months of indefinite detention without any clear future in Manus Island. Here a disaster is about to happen, please prevent this disaster. The Australian government is planning to resettle us in PNG against our will, by forcing us. We are not willing to be resettled in PNG because there is no safety [or] any future for us and our family. Today we consider us to be hostage for the Australian government so they can deter others not to come to Australia.”
Last week security guards, including PNG locals, began attacking peaceful protests in Oscar and Delta Compounds on Manus Island around 4pm, Manus Island time. The Australian Immigration Minister told a press conference that he wanted to “deal with the issues peacefully”, and stated that, “We’re happy to negotiate and discuss the situation.” But the action of Transfield’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) has put the lie to the Minister’s statement. There was no discussion and no warning before the security guards began attacking and beating protesters.
Nick Reimer from the Refugee Action Coalition Sydney adds: “People have mutilated, starved, poisoned, harmed and killed themselves from desperation. They have swallowed razor blades and set themselves on fire. They have died from medical neglect. Reza Barati was murdered. Throughout, government ministers have remained callously and pathologically indifferent. In relentlessly compounding asylum seekers’ suffering, governments have ignored the advice of the highest medical and legal authorities here and overseas. They and their morally bankrupt lawyers have spared no ingenuity or chicanery to foil attempts made through the courts to discipline their brutality. And they have justified their actions by cynically calling into question the bona fides of refugees fleeing oppression, and by consistently lying to the public that coming to Australia by boat is illegal.”
Here is a timeline of the hunger protest:
Tuesday 13 January: More than 100 asylum seekers on Manus Island go on hunger strike, protesting at their treatment in detention and the threat of being sent to live in the local community. The protest starts in Mike compound, with at least 50 men refusing food.
Wednesday 14 January: Detainees in Oscar, Foxtrot and Delta follow in refusing food and water, with more than 500 men now joining a mass hunger strike and at least two having stitched their lips together. Protesters refuse to return to their rooms, remaining at the wire fences of their compounds. Running water becomes unavailable at the centre, with detainees and staff having to use bottled water to wash. Local security guards are on strike after going unpaid.
Thursday 15 January: An asylum seeker collapses after reportedly swallowing razor blades in protest at his detention. The number of men on hunger strike continues to grow.
Friday 16 January: Hunger-striking asylum seekers on Manus Island collapse after three days without food and water, while others have reportedly swallowed detergent in protest. Immigration minister Peter Dutton alleges detainees are being encouraged into “non-compliant behaviour” and to refuse food and water by refugee advocates and some staff on Manus. Detainees, refugee advocates and staff all deny this. Riot police are filmed inside the detention centre, wearing body armour and carrying shields.
Saturday 17 January: Protests continue, with International Health and Medical Services (IHMS) staff converting the staff mess hall into an overflow emergency medical centre. More than 100 men from Mike compound, where the hunger strike started on Tuesday, are now under medical care, most from severe dehydration. Two men who swallowed razor blades and four who drank detergent are also in medical care.
Sunday 18 January: Four men are taken to the notorious “Chauka” solitary confinement unit. An urgent petition to the UN special rapporteurs on human rights, seen by Guardian Australia, is lodged overnight by refugee advocates. and describes multiple reports from staff and detainees saying the men were taken to Chauka. It urges the special rapporteurs to intervene and raise the matter with the Australian government.More than 200 detainees are now allegedly receiving medical treatment after going on hunger strike, and there are reports security police have begun rounding people up in a bid to end the protest.
Source of timeline: Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee.