A hunger strike on Christmas Island which has involved more than 200 detainees has entered its second week. The exact numbers involved are hard to ascertain but current estimates vary between 150 and 230, with up to 20 of those involved having sewn their lips shut and currently only taking sugar water.
The protests follow a recent Australian High Court decision that overturns the presumption that off-shore immigration detainees had no right of access to Australian courts and opens up the way for refugees who have had their asylum applications refused to seek judicial reviews and the death of an Iraqi asylum seeker at the Villawood detention centre. The lip-sewers have been dismissed as self-harmers by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship staff, as has one of the hunger strikers who attempted suicide on Saturday.
Protests have also taking place at the mainland detention facility at Villawood following the death of Ahmad al-Akabi, an Iraqi father-of-three committed suicide last Tuesday. Mr al-Akabi, having been held in detention for more than a year and refused asylum for the second time, had apparently begged the Immigration authorities to send him home shortly before his death.
Detainees occupied the roof for several hours and others set fire to wooden furniture in protest against the death and their collective despair at the length of time people are being interned. Whilst 100 or so detainees protested inside the camp 200 supporters held a noisy demonstration outside the perimeter fence.
In a separate story, the plight of one of the Oceanic Viking families has been highlighted in one Australian newspaper. Sumathi Rahavan, her husband Yogachandran, their 2 children, Atputha and Abinayan (6 and 3 years old respectively) and the new baby that Sumathi has given birth to in captivity are languishing in Villawood awaiting medical clearance for the infant before they are returned to Christmas Island* where they will continue their life in indefinite detention limbo. This is because they have been labelled as national security threats by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and cannot also be returned to Sri Lanka as refugees under international treaties.
Under 24-hours surveillance with no access to the internet, limited vetted phone calls and 3 Serco guards employed to constantly watch over them, they too despair of their situation and are thinking of putting the 2 older children up for adoption in order to give them the chance of a better life.
* The Christmas Island detention centre medical unit does not have maternity facilities and the Rahavan family had to be moved to the mainland.