Amin Janamin vowed to let no food or water pass his lips as he sewed them together nearly a fortnight ago. The former mine clearance officer from Afghanistan's Paktia province was in hospital on Saturday, suffering severe kidney pains and being hydrated through a drip-feed. Friends say he has resolved to die unless something is done for his 283 fellow detainees in an Australian refugee camp on the Pacific island of Nauru.
"The hunger strikers are determined," said Hassan Ghulam of Australia's Hazara ethnic society, who is in regular contact with the Nauru detainees. "They have signs on their hospital beds, saying, `After I am dead, don't undo my lips.'"
The number of strikers has grown to 35 since the protest began on Dec. 9, and 15 of them are now in hospital as the searing 50?C heat of Nauru's dry season takes its toll. Most shelter from the sun under a makeshift plastic canopy at the entrance to the Topside camp, surrounded by the blazing white coral of Nauru's interior. Their friends mop them with wet towels and shake them to check if they are still conscious; those who pass out are taken to the hospital, but at least two detainees have already discharged themselves and rejoined the protest after treatment. Some have been urinating blood.
Most of the detainees are Afghans whose refugee applications have been rejected because their country is now regarded as safe by the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR). A smaller number of Iraqi and Palestinian refugees have had their visas rejected on the same grounds. Roughly a third of the detainees are children.
"Now, when we are in the Australian-made detention centers, we don't think we have been treated better than what the Taliban and other cruel governments did with us,' wrote detainee Chaman Shah Nasiri in an e-mail as the protest began.
The UNHCR yesterday took the unusual step of issuing a statement calling for leniency in defining Afghanistan and Iraq as safe countries. The agency has pulled back its own staff in Afghanistan after a French UNHCR officer was shot dead in a marketplace in Ghazni last month.
Declaring that the situation in Nauru was "becoming a human tragedy," the statement stressed "the need to make exceptions, given the prevailing security conditions" in the refugees' home countries.
A delegation from the UNHCR visited the camp last week and is expected to report on the situation next week.
The refugees were brought to the country as part of Australia's Pacific solution, the policy whereby asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat were processed offshore in Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. The policy was introduced at the height of a public scare about immigration in the run-up to Australia's 2001 election.
The Australian government initially refused to get involved in the situation, saying that the camp had nothing to do with Australia and the detainees were not refugees.
On Friday it agreed to sponsor a visit to Nauru next week by a former Australian immigration minister and an Afghan community representative, in an attempt to break the strike.
Media and lawyers have been excluded from Nauru since soon after the camp was opened, but Maarten Dormaar, a Dutch psychologist who worked at the Topside camp last year before resigning in despair, has written that conditions for refugees on Nauru make the island "a psychiatrist's nightmare."
"You go there with the best intentions of helping refugees but you quickly conclude that you are participating in a system that only makes people sicker," he wrote.
Habib Daid, a refugee from Afghanistan's Ghazni province who was granted residence in New Zealand earlier this year after 18 months in Nauru, said that conditions in the camp were unbearable.
"I never like to remember those times again. It was like putting a bird in a box where it can never see the light," he said.
‘DEVOTED GUARDIANS’: A Chinese foreign affairs official said his nation’s diplomats would not ‘sit and do nothing while our country’s interests are being harmed’ China yesterday signaled no letup in its combative approach to foreign policy in a third term for Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) as leader despite criticism from many Western diplomats that the so-called “wolf warrior” stance has been counterproductive. As relations with the West have soured over issues from trade and human rights to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese diplomats have often been confrontational on the public stage, including on social media, a stridency that some critics see as intended for a domestic audience that nonetheless hurts its foreign ties. “We Chinese will not capitulate. We will not sit and do nothing while
Prominent Chinese commentator Hu Xijin (胡錫進) on Sunday said that as China ponders its COVID-19 policies, epidemic experts need to speak out and China ought to conduct comprehensive research and make any studies transparent to the public. Hu’s unusual call on Chinese social media for candor and transparency earned him 34,000 likes on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging platform, as well as frank responses from commentators in a normally tightly policed Internet quick to censor voices deemed a risk to social stability. China’s top leaders warned in May amid the COVID-19 lockdown of Shanghai and widespread restrictions in the Chinese capital, Beijing,
ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER: Most of the escaped gas is methane, the second biggest contributor to climate change and a ‘potent greenhouse gas,’ an oceanographer said Denmark on Tuesday said it believed “deliberate actions” by unknown perpetrators were behind big leaks — which seismologists said followed powerful explosions — in two natural gas pipelines running under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. European leaders and experts pointed to possible sabotage amid the energy standoff with Russia provoked by the war in Ukraine. Although filled with gas, neither pipeline is currently supplying it to Europe. “It is the authorities’ clear assessment that these are deliberate actions — not accidents,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said. However, she added that “there is no information indicating who could be behind it.” Frederiksen
AT WASHINGTON SUMMIT: The agreement between the US and 14 Pacific nations came half a year after the Solomon Islands struck a security deal with China The Solomon Islands has joined 13 other Pacific nations in signing a wide-reaching US-led partnership agreement, after early indications it would refuse. The 10-point US-Pacific Partnership deal was announced by the White House on Thursday evening, following the first-ever meeting between a US president and the leaders of every major Pacific nation. It includes commitments for increased action on climate change, economic development and security cooperation. Earlier, US President Joe Biden committed more than US$810 million to a new Pacific initiative. “A great deal of the history of our world is going to be written in the Indo-Pacific over the coming years