Lloyd Jones | January 19, 2011
A detainee at the Curtin Detention Centre says hunger striking Afghan asylum seekers protesting over processing delays have been taken unconscious to the clinic.
The detainee and refugee advocates say hundreds of detainees are on a hunger strike to protest against processing delays and asylum rejections.
The advocates also say two men have tried to kill themselves at the facility near Derby in Western Australia’s Kimberley region.
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But the Immigration Department says only 20 to 30 detainees have said they were hunger striking and it is not commenting on whether detainees have attempted self-harm during the protest that started on Monday.
In a phone call from the centre on Wednesday, a detainee, who did not wish to be named, said more than 700 people had been on hunger strike since Monday.
“Some of them are unconscious, they have been taken to clinic by wheelchair,” he told AAP.
“Immigration said they have come and talked – that is not the reality.
“They haven’t come and talked with us. The situation is worse,” the detainee said.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said about 300 Afghan asylum seekers stayed overnight in a compound outside the centre’s immigration offices.
He said hundreds of other detainees were boycotting the mess hall at the centre, which currently holds 1150 asylum seekers.
“There’s 1000 people still involved in the protest in some capacity.”
Mr Rintoul said protesters wanted immigration officials to come to Curtin to explain lengthy processing delays and the reason so many Afghan asylum applications were rejected.
He said a detainee had called to say one man had tried to hang himself and was taken by ambulance to Derby Hospital at 7am (WST) on Wednesday.
The incident followed an earlier report from refugee advocates that a detainee had attempted suicide on Monday.
But an immigration spokeswoman on Wednesday said the department had made a decision not to comment on individual self-harm incidents in the interests of detainees’ safety and wellbeing.
She did say that between July and November last year there were 79 incidents of self harm, not including hunger striking, at Australian detention centres.
The Curtin facility remained calm and the protest peaceful, the spokeswoman said.
Around 20 to 30 detainees had told the department they were “engaged in voluntary starvation”, while a larger group protesting in the compound fluctuated in number between about 100 and 150 people, she said.
“It’s just difficult to determine who’s on a hunger strike and who’s not, because some of them are turning up for one meal and not the next.”
“A lot of the time they’re not indicating to the staff where they stand on these things.”
The spokeswoman said Serco, the detention service provider, was encouraging the detainees to take food and drink for their own wellbeing.
“We are trying to point out to the people involved that these kinds of actions don’t alter the outcome of their asylum claims,” she said.
On Monday, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced Australia had signed a landmark deal with Afghanistan under which Afghans whose asylum claims have failed will be sent home.