Refugee advocates and supporters have marched on Department of Immigration offices in Sydney, leaving water bottles at the building's entrance to protest the ongoing treatment of asylum seekers hunger striking on Manus Island.
The bottles were left as a symbolic nod to reports that water has been denied to protesting asylum seekers.
Precise details about the hunger strike have been difficult to confirm but the number of men involved in the protest has been consistently reported as between 500 to 700. As of December 31 there were 1035 men detained in the centre.
Around 150 people gathered in Sydney yesterday as speakers took aim at the Coalition government and Labor, accusing them of lying about the depth of the suffering being endured on Manus and angered by the continuing bipartisan support for offshore processing.
Media were targeted as well for their reporting.
Steph O’Donnell, who helped stop the deportation of Chinese asylum seeker Wei Lin in 2014 by joining other passengers of an Air China flight in refusing to be seated at take off, told the crowd asylum seekers were desperate for their voices to be heard.
“There’s noting illegal about seeking asylum as Australia has an obligation and responsibility to safeguard not only the physical wellbeing of these people but [also]the mental wellbeing of these people, whether they are on or offshore,” O’Donnell said.
Between speakers, members of the Refugee Action Coalition passed around a bucket, taking donations to help asylum seekers on Manus buy fresh phone credit.
Earlier in the week, advocates told New Matilda their communication with those in the compound suddenly went dead for a period of approximately five hours, leading asylum seekers to believe their internet connections had been jammed or interrupted by security personnel.
Reports of serious incidents of self-harm continued to come in yesterday and today as the hunger strike continues, despite Wilson security forces storming Manus’ Delta compound on Monday night, resulting in 58 asylum seekers being detained in the Lorengau police station.
Under a cloudless Sydney sky, one speaker collapsed after telling of the plight of her brother, who remains interned on Manus, separated from his daughter.
“My brother, he lost 45kgs in Manus Island because he is sad,” the woman, whose name was not given, said.
“Immigration broken his inside and he’s very sad.”
After collapsing the woman remained on the ground for some moments, shaking and in tears, as advocates comforted her and provided water.
NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge attacked Federal MPs for putting their own re-election over humane refugee policy.
“We jail [asylum seekers]in remote islands in our poor neighbouring countries, we steal their human rights, we ignore our international obligations,” he said.
“But more fundamentally we damage ourselves and we damage our society by denying what’s good in us and only responding to the meanness and the pettiness and the ugliness of our current government.”
New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has hit the airwaves in recent days after initially denying the hunger strike was taking place.
On Tuesday night the Minister told ABC’s 7:30 program that some detainees had been found with weapons, but refused to elaborate.
A Fairfax report based on a “well placed source” suggested the same, but also failed to go into any detail.
Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, rejected the claim, and said the government was responsible for the crisis.
As the rally crossed away from Sydney’s Central Station towards George Street, attendees drew messages of support for asylum seekers on the footpath.
The current round of protests on Manus come as detainees become increasingly desperate about their fate. Many have now given up hope of ever coming to Australia and are instead appealing to the UN to help them settle in a third country.
Asylum seeker advocates say those who were not at extreme risk of torture or murder have returned to their countries of origin.
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