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Asylum Seekers at Australian Offshore Detention Facility on Hunger Strike

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 22 2015 (IPS) - A candlelight vigil was held Wednesday outside the Australian Mission to the United Nations in support of more than 900 asylum seekers who have been on hunger strike at Australia’s offshore detention centre in Manus Island, Papua New Guinea for at least nine days.

Participants at the vigil read out a letter from the asylum seekers, “The signatories to the following message clearly express ourselves to all media, organisations and human rights institutes.”

“We are writing to you from the heart of Manus, today 20 January 2015 our hunger strike entered it’s ninth day and it will continue.”

“In here alarm bells are ringing but heartless politicians are still indifferent.”

The letter was released on 20 January, after the Australian and the Papua New Guinean governments had claimed the hunger strikes were over.

The Australian government has not allowed media or human rights organisations access to the detention facilities, despite recommendations to do so from the United Nations. This means refugee advocates are reliant on leaks from staff working at the facilities, which have reportedly increased sharply during the hunger strike.

Kon Karapanagiotidis, CEO of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre in Melbourne Australia told IPS: “We have facilities that have been open for 763 days, ten one-year protection visas, zero people resettled, two people killed and about $2.5 billion spent.”

Karapanagiotidis said that Australia’s refugee policies were setting a dangerous precedent that other countries in Europe and North America were following.

“As a democratic industrialised nation which is a signatory to the refugee convention, the global community should be deeply disturbed and shocked at the fact that Australia is closing its doors to the most vulnerable,” he said.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture expressed concerns in November 2014 about Australia’s mandatory immigration detention practices, including mandatory detention of children.

Describing Australia’s practice of sending refugees offshore, the committee said, “The combination of the harsh conditions, the protracted periods of closed detention and the uncertainty about the future reportedly creates serious physical and mental pain and suffering.”

The Committee described Australia’s offshore immigration facilities as ‘processing centres’, however refugee advocates, including Karapanagiotidis argue they are not processing facilities since no asylum seekers have been resettled from there.

Amnesty International’s report to the Committee, dated October 2014, stated: “In the 15 months since the first asylum seekers were sent to Manus Island under this arrangement, no one has been released from detention on Manus Island. This is despite completion of processing for many, and ‘recommendations’ having been made by Immigration officials that a number are refugees and entitled to protection and settlement.”

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