September 2, 2010
POLICE refused 88 Afghan asylum seekers water as they huddled under sheets in stifling temperatures in Darwin for almost eight hours yesterday.
Fifteen of the men suffered severe heat exhaustion and dehydration and were taken by ambulances to Royal Darwin Hospital.
Police justified the refusal to give the men water as a negotiating tactic after they refused to return to Darwin’s immigration centre, from where they escaped early yesterday.
Five of the men were hospitalised before 60 police arrested the remainder of the men and took them in a convoy of police vehicles to the Darwin police station. Another 10 were taken to hospital from there last night.
A hospital spokeswoman said all the detainees were stable. They would be held overnight.
The detainees are Muslims who normally fast during the current Ramadan fasting month.
But as they protested beside the Stuart Highway, outside the detention centre, they clearly needed water. The Age saw a detainee pick up four small bottles of water police had left on the ground nearby.
The men told reporters they escaped because many of their applications for protection visas had been rejected and they faced deporation.
One of the men said they had nothing to lose by breaking the law and escaping because “if they send us back to Afghanistan the Taliban will kill us”.
Another man told reporters that security guards at the centre warned them that if they escaped they would damage their efforts to remain in Australia.
But as dawn broke at 6.30am they forced their way over and through the fences that were electrified with 11,000 volts.
They ran several hundred metres through scrubland to the highway where they protested as drivers were going to work, displaying signs on sheets which included “please help us, show us mercy”.
The men had been in detention in either Christmas Island or Darwin for up to 10 months.
One of them threw a note to journalists which said he had first arrived in Australia in 2002 but was sent back to Afghanistan after spending three years in detention here.
He wrote that he risked his life again to come to Australia because of the violence in Afghanistan. “Given the foreign forces are helpless and not safe in Afghanistan please have mercy Australian people, please,” the man wrote.
Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the protesters had exploited security conditions created by the protest, which began on Sunday. He stressed the protesters were seeking to draw attention to their plight and were not armed or dangerous.