The people are asylum seekers who have all been taken to Nauru to be ‘processed’, despite having asked for asylum in Australia. The asylum seekers were intercepted on boats travelling to Australia. Some were transferred from Christmas Island.
Their demands are simple:
1. To be taken back to Australia, and
2. For their refuge processing to begin immediately.
The majority began the hunger strike on 1st November, but others have been on strike for longer than 20 days.
“We are not criminals,” one asylum seeker told the Sydney Refugee Action Coalition, “We did nothing wrong. We did not come to Nauru. We came to Australia for protection.”
The asylum seekers have been transported to Nauru since Australia re-introduced the ‘Pacific Solution’ only two months ago. The ‘Pacific Solution’ is the practise of ‘off-shore’ processing of people seeking asylum in Australia, it ended in 2008 after a lot of controversy.
One of the key reasons behind its re-introduction was to stop so-called ‘people smugglers’ and to end the boats attempting to make the trip from south-east Asia to Australia. The Australian government thinks off-shore processing will deter people seeking safe haven. It is a reasoning that shows the naive thinking of the government and a failure to understand the needs of asylum seekers.
Asylum seekers in Australia are already subject to mandatory and indefinite detention. The people helping them, those labelled ‘people-smugglers’ are prosecuted and often receive long prison sentences. The Pacific Solution and the re-opening of Nauru as a detention centre, do nothing to help people seeking a basic human right – that of asylum.
Those people sent to Nauru, are sent under a ‘no advantage’ clause. That is, says the government, people will be detained in the camps for the same amount of time they would have had to wait in the queue for a refugee visa, if they had remained in their home country or an overseas refugee camp. But the Australian government fails to realise that there is no queue.
Richard Towle, regional representative for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees, has been quoted recently speaking about the queue.
“The notion of queue jumping is false logic. It’s a completely artificial construct; there is no queue,” he said at a Brisbane forum in September.
“There never was a queue, it’s a cruel deception on people to suggest like at a bank you wait patiently for your number and will be picked to go.”
The Green Party in Australia put the ‘wait’ in Indonesia currently at 76 years. For some reason the Australian government puts it at around five years. The truth is that families are born and die waiting to be accepted as refugees.
The UNHCR estimates that in total, less than one per cent of the world’s refugees may be resettled in any given year.
As Richard Towle said, if people do not act to help themselves, the alternative is to wait in camps for years, sometimes decades, with no real prospect of going home or somewhere better.
“If we were in the same situation, we would all put our money in the hands of someone who could get us out,” he said.
“If a fire is burning in a building, everyone wants to get out.”
“If you want to come to Australia to claim asylum, the only way you can really do it is by boat because all other ways are simply impossible.”
Australia takes on just 0.2 percent of the global refugee population, and according to the World Refugee Survey in 2007 “nations with per capita incomes of less than $2,000 host more than two-thirds of all refugees”. Nations with per capita incomes over $10,000 hosted just five percent.
Another struggle for the people sent to Nauru is that the people detained there will be processed under Nauru law. Those asylum seekers who are not given refugee status will not have access to appeal through the Australian legal system. The Nauruan Supreme court comprises one judge who lives in Melbourne.
Seeking asylum is a right, it is not something to be demonised – and Australia needs to recognise that.
The Hunger Strikes Press Release of 31st October:
WE ASYLUM SEEKERS IN NAURU PLANNED TO START A HUNGER STRIKE FROM 1/11/2012 TO UNKNOWN TIME
We asylum seekers in Nauru planned to start a hunger strike from 1/09/2012 for unknown time, this is a clear message that we are not happy here, we want to go back from this Hell to Australia and we request to the Australia government to start our processing.