Asylum seeker cuts throat in Australia protest

SYDNEY — An asylum seeker cut his throat and dozens more were on hunger strike at an northern Australian detention centre, refugee activists said, taking immigration protests into their fourth day.

Two men had cut themselves, “one on his arm and one on his throat”, at the remote Scherger detention centre in northern Queensland state, said refugee activist Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

They were among 80 men from Afghanistan’s Hazara minority on hunger strike at the centre, about 2,000 kilometres (1,250 miles) from Brisbane, some of whom hadn’t eaten or had water for more than 48 hours, said Curr.

“Two men this morning cut themselves, one cut his arms and one cut his throat,” said the activist, who has been in constant contact via telephone with the men.

“There are 80 men sitting out there who are seriously considering killing themselves,” she told AFP on Saturday.

Immigration officials said there were about 50 people conducting a “peaceful” protest at the centre and there had been some self-harm incidents, but described them as mild.

“Two clients did engage in acts of minor self harm. Their injuries are minor and they are being closely monitored by medical staff,” a spokesman said.

Curr said some of the men had been in detention for 22 months, “sitting and waiting quietly” while detainees rioted at centres in Sydney and on Christmas Island, but they had lost hope and were now using “the only tool they have”.

A number of the men had diabetes, kidney stones and high blood pressure and were refusing their medication in addition to food and water, and Curr warned it was only a matter of time before there were dire consequences.

Two men were already unconscious and one had climbed a tree and threatened to jump, she added.

“They are losing the capacity to make rational judgements,’ she said.

In a letter of demands, seen by AFP, the men said their “punitive and arbitrary jailing has destroyed our physical and mental health”, which followed years of suffering under the Taliban and “other dictators and regimes.”

“We are locked in NO MAN’S LAND inside a military base where average people and the media have no access to us,” the men wrote.

“Our treatment in this way is very hideous and painful.”

The men called for the media to be allowed into the centre and for all rejected asylum claims among them to be reviewed within a month, claiming the original officials were biased and under political pressure to knock them back.

Australia has a policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers arriving by boat, mostly from conflict zones through a popular people-smuggling corridor from Indonesia.

A record influx of almost 7,000 boatpeople last year has put the system under strain, sparking three nights of wild riots this week at remote Christmas Island, the main detention centre.

No charges have been laid but several Iranian men believed to the ringleaders have been removed from the Indian Ocean centre and transferred to Sydney, where they are reportedly in a mainstream prison.

There was further unrest on the island on Friday night, a spokesman said, but nothing like the violence and fires seen in the previous three nights and he described the situation there Saturday as “calm”.

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