Thursday, April 12, 2007

Human Rights in Australia - Villawood hunger strike enters third week


The Refugee Action Coalition of NSW reports a statement signed by ten Villawood hunger strikers has condemned the “unjust situation of detention” and has called for the government to stop forceful removals, limit detention to six months and for the immediate release of two Chinese asylum seekers from incommunicado detention in the Villawood management unit.

The statement, a comprehensive critique of the government’s punitive and adversarial refugee policy accuses the government of using long-term detention to “blackmail” asylum seekers into accepting “wrongful decisions” and coercing people into accepting deportation despite the fact that deportation endangers the safety of asylum seekers.

The hunger strike has been going for fifteen days, and fears that the asylum seekers may suffer long term health damage is mounting. One hunger striker, a diabetic, may already have suffered damage to his eyesight.

He was taken from Villawood for treatment on Good Friday after his eyesight failed but was returned after being told that he should eat. He has continued the hunger strike.

Yesterday, hunger strikers were given a letter signed by Lyn O’Connell, First Assistant Secretary Detention and Offshore Services Division,Immigration Department stating that she understands that the asylum seekers are involved in “voluntary starvation” and urging the hunger strikers to “cease your current action”. The letters also says that the government “does not respond to these actions.”

“We are urging the government to meet with the hunger strikers. No-one is asking for special treatment. In 2005, Chinese asylum seekers were on hunger strike for up to 55 days before their cases were reviewed and subsequently released. The ball is in the Ministers’ court. The incommunicado detention of the two asylum seekers in the Villawood management unit is a gross violation of their human rights regardless of anything else. They should be released immediately. The Minister should stop playing political football with the lives of these asylum seekers,” said Ian Rintoul, a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

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