Sat, Jan 12, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Australia denies mass immigrant hunger strike

AFP, SYDNEY

Australia has denied that hundreds of immigrants have gone on a mass hunger strike at a facility in Melbourne, while insisting conditions at the facility are not “inhumane or brutal.”

Days after detainees and activists declared a hunger strike in a protest against living conditions, the Australian Border Force said there was no “mass hunger strike” at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation.

“While some detainees are refusing to attend regular meal times as part of a protest, they continue to eat and drink in other parts of the facility,” the border force said in a statement.

However, Refugee Action Coalition activist Ian Rentoul said that the “hunger strike protest” was now in its fourth day.

Detainees launched the protest over complaints of prison-like conditions and limited privacy.

New Zealander John Vaofusi, 30, who lost automatic residency rights after being convicted of assault, said he would continue the strike “until we see some change.”

“I feel like I’m in jail again,” he said. “I’ve done my time for that crime.”

The border force defended conditions inside the center, saying that “the detention population has changed considerably in recent years.”

It added “a significant number” of the detained population had “their visa canceled on character grounds, based on criminal convictions and links to criminal associations, such as outlaw motorcycle gangs or organized crime.”

Successive Australian governments have upheld a decades-old policy of mandatory detention for “unlawful non-citizens,” even for offenses such as visa overstays.

Hunger strikes are a frequent occurrence at Australia’s onshore detention facilities for people who have run afoul of immigration law.

Last year, hundreds of detainees at a center in Sydney went on hunger strike against strict visitation rules.

Detainees have also used strikes to garner media coverage and put pressure on Australia’s conservative government to close the facilities.

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