Refugees vow to die rather than go home

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 12:00am

A group of asylum-seekers staging a hunger strike on the Pacific island of Nauru after being refused entry to Australia have said they would rather die than return home.

The refugees - 23 Afghans and one Pakistani - failed in their application for political asylum in Australia and have been told they must go back to their countries.

They have been held in an Australian-funded detention centre on Nauru for up to two years since being intercepted trying to reach Australia's north coast by boat.

Nine of the 24 asylum-seekers have been admitted to hospital since the hunger strike began last Wednesday, with some passing blood in their urine.

Four of the men have sewn their lips together to protest against their treatment by the Australian authorities.

A refugee advocate, Kate Durham, said yesterday the men were sure to die if they were forced to go home because several had converted to Christianity since being detained.

'One has a father who is a mullah. He would be expected to kill his own son,' she said.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department said the refugees were receiving proper medical treatment and were in 'remarkably good health'.

More than 280 asylum-seekers, including 93 children, are being held on Nauru as part of Australia's so-called 'Pacific Solution', under which refugees are sent to offshore holding centres rather than being detained in Australia.

A Melbourne-based lawyer launched legal action against the government in the Supreme Court of Victoria yesterday, alleging that the detention of the asylum-seekers is unlawful.

'These people are refugees. They are escaping from a war-torn and ravaged country and they ought to be handled with a bit of care, not treated like animals locked up behind razor wire,' lawyer Eric Vadarlis said.