As the situation on Nauru grows more desperate, detainees have mounted a weekend of hunger strikes and protests against poor conditions and facilities, especially health care and first aid. A total of four detainees are known to activists to have attempted suicide.
Yesterday, asylum seekers staged a protest at 4pm Nauru time, where they chanted and hung banners and placards. The protest was a continuation of others which took place on Friday and on Saturday, where according to the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), a banner stating "we are not criminals" was confiscated by the Salvation Army, who are providing "humanitarian support" on the island. The asylum seekers have been told to make a request to the Department of Immigration for the return of the banner.
Over 300 of the 400 asylum seekers also held a mass hunger strike on Friday, with most abstaining from at least lunch and dinner. According to testimonies from asylum seekers contacted by the RAC via Skype and provided to New Matilda, the snap one-day fast was "A warning for them [the department]in the future. Maybe we will start the hunger strike for an unlimited time".
An Iranian man has also been conducting a hunger strike for over two weeks, according to detainees contacted by RAC, who said, "Of course he is continuing his hunger strike … yes all the people are very worried about him… his condition is getting worse and worse — he’s too weak."
Sandi Logan, a spokesman for the Department of Immigration, responded to questions about the hunger strike on Twitter yesterday. He claimed that only the Iranian man was "classified voluntary starvation" and that "more than 380 were eating". The Department’s own definition of "hunger strike" only includes those who have missed meals for more than 24 hours.
Medical facilities in the camp’s small hospital are inadequate; one detainee told the RAC, "I don’t think they have more than one or two doctors." Treatment is patchy, with some injured detainees being left for long waits or returned to the camp without having been treated at all. According to one asylum seeker’s account, an Iranian man bitten by a snake and crying out in pain was sent back to his tent to wait for treatment.
Further accounts claim that, "One guy was sick, he went to the doctor, so, the doctor say, ‘OK… I will shift you to the mental hospital’. Are we crazy, are we mental? No — we are all humans, we are asylum seekers, we are not criminals. By their own hand they want to make us crazy. All the guys are suffering."
"They are becoming crazy. Every day, day and night, we are suffering."
A third man was vomiting blood when he was taken in for help but "when he went in to the doctor they just gave him a mask without giving him any treatment. They don’t have any facilities here, they just left him in the tent," asylum seekers said. After others started shouting for him to be taken to hospital he was eventually admitted.
While detainees have plenty of bottled water to drink, according to detainees because of the persistent 40 degree heat, "the condition of the food is also not good. Because of it most of the guys, they are suffering from dysentery, they have stomach problems because of this food." One asylum seeker said that he and his fellow detainees could not avoid sweating constantly into their own food due to the lack of fans or air conditioning.
Currently four detainees are known to have attempted suicide. One Iranian man, who attempted to hang himself on Tuesday night and has since been constantly watched by up to four guards, made a second attempt and was rescued again on Saturday night. Detainees told the RAC that his cries could be heard around the camp until around 3am yesterday morning.
Aside from the heat, the detainees tents have been lashed by storms, one of which on Thursday night turned the camp to mud. Many asylum seekers’ bedding and possession were soaked, with one man saying "Last night it was heavily raining here — all the tents were full of water. We can compare; people say we are coming in leaky boats, but we can say we live in leaky tents."
Access to phone and internet facilities has also been limited. Asylum seekers report that an "officer stands behind you so you can’t do the things you want to do" during short 15-minute sessions.
In a statement yesterday the RAC’s Ian Rintoul called for more transparency in the way Nauru is administered:
"We are again calling for independent human rights monitors to be stationed on Nauru. Asylum seekers are not criminals. The idea that their right to communicate to the outside world could be restricted and censored is unconscionable.
"The Department of Immigration is going to extraordinary lengths to prevent the truth getting out of Nauru. But the truth is obvious — Nauru is a prison for refugees, and the government of both Australia and Nauru are denying asylum seekers their human rights and their rights as asylum seekers."
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship confirmed in a statement yesterday that eight Sri Lankan asylum seekers had been "voluntarily returned" to Colombo on a commercial flight, for a total of 29 Sri Lankans returned home over the weekend.
"Regular transfers to Nauru and more Sri Lankans returning home is further proof that there is no advantage engaging with people smugglers," the department’s spokesman said.
The statement below was issued by asylum seekers on Nauru following their protest yesterday (Sunday 29 Oct) afternoon:
We heard several times from different authorities that the sending of us [to Nauru]is an argument of giving lessons to those who have intention of coming to Australia through the sea by people smugglers.
Now we are sacrificed of Nauru living in a hot and wild place in a worst situation that gradually move us towards death.
Isn’t our coming here give this message that those who are coming by sea to Australia if they are not sink in sea, will be killed in Nauru?
Isn’t it far from justice that the painful and sorrowful conditions of our life without providing anything to us is giving lesson for others, we should be witness of pains, diseases and death.
The World independent news channel, Human Right Commissions and the Communities of Oppressed peoples.
We have been sacrificed to give lesson to those who comes to Australia by boat.
This is justice?
Transferring of asylum seekers by fraud and force.
This is justice?
Having no option we prefer to die instead of living in Nauru.
We request to PM and MP’s of Australia to save our lives, take us back to Australia and process our cases.
The policy of Nauru and PNG has no advantage for both Asylum seekers and Australian government. So
Please don’t destroy our future and don’t make us crazy.
This policy is destroying well educated and skillful asylum seekers in Nauru.
Today, we got together to announce that we will continue our protest until shifting to Australia and processing our cases.