A 25-year-old Iranian asylum seeker has ended a 44-day hunger strike after reports he was close to death inspired vigils and shows of support from Nauru and Manus Island.
Saeed Hassanloo, who has been in and out of immigration detention for the past four years, began the fast to protest his return to Iran and is now recovering in the intensive care unit at the Royal Perth Hospital.
Father Chris Bedding, an Anglican priest who helped organise a vigil for Hassanloo, said the young man feared his Christianity meant it was unsafe for him to return home, as the Department of Immigration is insisting he must do.
“I think there are many, many people in that situation,” Bedding said.
“Particularly at risk are people who are Christian converts, who if they were returned to Iran would face persecution by the state. There are also lots of Iranians who haven’t had the support to be able to adequately make their case for protection.”
Hassanloo has had his application for asylum in Australia rejected but the Australian government is not able to return Iranians unless they agree to go, meaning many have been left in limbo, stuck in detention but adamant they can not return.
Iranians have been involved in a number of protest actions in Australian detention centres in recent months, with significant numbers self-harming and hunger striking after being separated from their families and partners.
Victoria Martin-Iverson, a refugee advocate in Perth, said Hassanloo left Iran in the wake of the 2009 Green revolution, which was violently snuffed out by the Ahmadinejad regime.
“He’s been in detention – either community or high security facilities – for pretty much the entire time he’s been in Australia,” Martin-Iverson said.
“This is a young man who came here seeking freedom and instead found only further repression and the suffering.”
Hassanloo was being held in Yongah Hill detention centre when his hunger strike began, as the centre used to hold convicted criminals as well as asylum seekers.
As Hassanloo’s situation deteriorated he began to receive support from the community and other asylum seekers detained in the Pacific.
A vigil was held outside the Perth hospital on Friday, while refugees on Nauru held their own vigil, and those detained on Manus Island sent messages in solidarity.
Martin-Iverson said Hassanloo’s friends in detention had watched the case with great concern.
“They’re going to be pretty happy he has come off his hunger strike,” she said.
“They, like most of the folks in detention following this story, were pretty much on edge.”
In response, Hassanloo sent a message thanking those who took part for their support.
Speaking to Radio National this morning, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton confirmed Hassanloo had ended the strike.
“I’m advised overnight that Saeed has accepted medical assistance and is on some path to recovery. Obviously he has a long way to go, but the advice that I have is that he has decided to take fluids or food and is speaking to his case manager and his team at the Royal Perth Hospital on that basis,” Dutton said.
Dutton ruled out making an intervention on Hassanloo’s behalf.
“If we allow people to self-harm or refuse food and fluids and that somehow that would twist my arm then I would issue a visa with work rights, which is what he is after, as I say completely understandably, but if I was to succumb to that pressure, the strong advice I have from my Department, I have no doubt in accepting that advice at all, is that I would have hundreds if not thousands of people on hunger strikes tomorrow.”
Dutton rejected accusations that Hassanloo’s brother had been sent to Christmas Island to separate the pair, and said his advice was the Iranian’s sibling had been offered the chance to speak to him.
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