Asylum seekers sent by Australia to the tiny island of Nauru entered the fifth day of a hunger strike yesterday, vowing to continue their protest indefinitely, refugee advocates said.
The asylum seekers, men mostly from Sri Lanka but also from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq who arrived in Australia by boat, are protesting their detention on the tiny Pacific state, where accommodation is basic, while their applications for asylum in Australia are assessed.
"They talk increasingly [...] of the hunger strike being indefinite," said refugee campaigner Ian Rintoul.
"They want the government to close Nauru, they want to be taken back to Australia and most importantly, they want their processing to begin immediately."
Rintoul, who is in contact with the men, said some 300 of the about 380 asylum-seekers on the island were taking part in the hunger strike and around 55 had suffered ill-effects or received treatment.
But the immigration department said no detainees had been hospitalised and only about 12 to 15 people had been treated on site by late on Sunday.
"We acknowledge there are people on voluntary starvation and we take that very seriously, and we are monitoring the situation," an immigration department spokesman said.
"But the numbers that are being quoted by advocates are incorrect."
The spokesman also disputed the number of people involved in the hunger strike, saying it did not correlate with the amount of meals, snacks and drinks being consumed by the detainees.
Canberra decided in mid-August to send boatpeople to Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island for processing, to deter them from making the dangerous journey to Australia after scores of drownings en route.
The policy, implemented along with a lifting of Australia's refugee intake, was designed to stem the record influx of people-smuggling boats arriving.