August 25: Asylum seekers, potentially numbering in the hundreds, have gone on a hunger strike on Christmas Island to protest against being sent to Nauru for their claims to be assessed.
Afghan asylum seeker Imayat Ali told Fairfax by phone late on Friday that 238 people, including about 40 women and children – from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Sri Lanka – had been told they would be sent to Nauru, “and if we refuse … we would be deported to our home countries. So we’ve been doing hunger strike,” Mr Ali, 55, said.
He said he had arrived via boat from Indonesia on August 14 and had been on hunger strike since the 16th. It was unclear how many of the asylum seekers are refusing food.
“We don’t want to go [to Nauru] because we don’t want to be like others before us who went to Nauru but whose cases were not quickly handled and they have to stay there for six to eight years, so they became mad. They became mentally ill. We don’t want that,” Mr Ali said.
“The Australian government said that UNHCR will help us with processing our claim but all the work will be done on Nauru island. We don’t want that. We want the processing work to be done here on Christmas Island because all we want to have is to go to Australia.
“I hope you can help us by telling the Australian government that we don’t want to go to Nauru island.”
An Immigration Department spokesman would not confirm if any of the people in asylum detention on Christmas Island were on a hunger strike but reiterated that if they were, it would not change the plans for them.
“Nothing that any of the detainee clients do will influence the path that we are now on to arranging their transfer to Nauru for processing,” he said.
“We understand their concern and we will work with them, but their behaviour will not influence what the policy requires.”