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Nauru hunger strikers near death: report


Nauru hunger strikers near death: report

Hunger-strikers on Nauru protesting against Australia's rejection of their asylum applications believe they will be dead within a week, a New Zealand journalist has reported from the island, which has a ban on news media.

"They do not want to die, they want to live," 18-year-old detainee Ali Madad Razai told the Dominion-Post newspaper, which said it was the first news organisation to visit Nauru since the hunger-strike began more than three weeks ago.

"They are on death's door," he said.

About 45 refugees began a hunger strike more than three weeks ago.

They are among 284 mainly Afghans still on the island after being denied refugee status in Australia two-and-a-half years ago.

A photo of the hunger strikers showed two with their lips apparently sewn together, while one hunger-striker had heart problems and two had "rotten" sores on their legs, detainees were quoted as saying.

Most were said to be suffering severe kidney pain and were so weak they had to be carried about the camp on stretchers.

Some were reportedly planning to sew their eyes up.

"A hunger strike is something you do when you have no other option - believe me, we had no other option," Mr Razai said.

"If the world didn't know that we were alive before, they can at least know there are some tragic events on Nauru after the asylum seekers' deaths."

The Immigration Department says no one is critically ill and they are been carefully monitored, but declined to say whether plans are in place for possible deaths.

Australian Immigration Minister Senator Amanda Vanstone has maintained medical facilities on Nauru are more than adequate to deal with the hunger strikers.

Mr Razai claimed the local hospital was ill-equipped to meet the demands of the detainees and doctors had refused their requests for further medical treatment.

The hunger strikers frequently fell unconscious and had to be taken to hospital by ambulance and given intravenous drugs, he said.

Nauru refugee advocate Elaine Smith agreed saying that when she spoke to the hunger strikers on January 1 they were in despair.

“There are no independent medical observers there,” she said.

“There's no independent person who can see what's been happening in the camp how they are.

“I was picking up a resignation that there was going to be no action and that they felt utterly hopeless.”

The United Nations warned before Christmas that the crisis on Nauru was becoming a human tragedy and called on the Australian Government to find a dignified and humane solution to a hunger strike.

The hunger strike was "symptomatic of a general degree of despair that must be addressed with a view to responding humanely to what is becoming a human tragedy," United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond said in a statement.

In September 2001, the Australian Government arranged for many of 438 refugees taken on board the Norwegian freighter Tampa to go to Nauru, as part of what Prime Minister John Howard called the "Pacific Solution". The Dominion Post said most of the detainees appeared to be in good physical condition.

Its journalist and photographer spent two days talking with detainees about life in the camp, the life they left behind in Afghanistan and their dreams for a free life.

The newspaper said the remaining detainees on Nauru had been refused refugee status after a single interview with immigration officials soon after their arrival.

Razai said the interpreter at the interview was from an ethnic group that had been a long time persecutor of the Hazara ethnic group, to which most of the remaining detainees belonged.

The detainees have been told by Australia to return to Afghanistan but believe they will be killed if they do so, Mr Razai said.

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