More asylum seekers in Nauru feeling effects of hunger strike | Pacific Beat

More asylum seekers in Nauru feeling effects of hunger strike

More asylum seekers in Nauru feeling effects of hunger strike

Updated 12 November 2012, 12:37 AEDT

Hundreds of asylum seekers on Nauru enter their twelfth day of hunger strike today.

One Iranian detainee has now been on hunger strike for 31 days, with doctors reportedly warning the man his kidneys and brain will fail soon.

Refugee advocates maintain that around 300 people remain on hunger strike, but the immigration department disputes those figures.

Ian Rintoul from the Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition a group that is in regular contact with the detainees on Nauru.

He says the asylum seeker appear determined to continue the strike.

Presenter:Geraldine Coutts

Speaker:Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coaltion, Australia


RINTOUL: I spoke to them late last night and no, it's pretty much status quo although quite a lot more people are feeling the affects. They said a lot more people were very unwell, have got back problems presumably from pain in the kidneys, stomach problems, so a lot more people reporting being dizzy. There is still only about 15 people needed to go to the medical centre yesterday, but no people seem still determined to stay on the hunger strike.
COUTTS: Well, what about the man known as Omid, whose sounding like he's dangerously ill? What are they doing for him? Is there a force feeding in sight soon?
RINTOUL: Well, we'll be very interested to see what happens with Omid. Obviously everyone is very, very worried about him. He has been told that they will make arrangements in the next few days to move from the detention centre to the Nauru hospital that they don't think the medical centre is equipped to deal with his physical state. Now. they've also asked him to appoint someone should he become unconscious that will be able to make decisions about his future. So there obviously is a very serious situation, but there's been no step so far to take him from the detention centre.
COUTTS: What are the legalities do you know Ian about force feeding?
RINTOUL: Well, under Australian law, under the Migration act, there actually is the possibility of force feeding. The Department actually authorising force feeding. But as we understand that there is no such regulation and no such provision in any laws in Nauru. 
There is a very strong statement from international health bodies, including the world body which represents doctors to say that it is unethical for doctors to intervene in a hunger strike, in these kind of circumstances, if there has been an express statement of someone who is capable of saying that they do want to continue a hunger strike, whether they're conscious or not.
COUTTS: Well, doctors also have the legal thing, charter that they sign, Do No Harm and this will do no harm is they don't intervene?
RINTOUL: That's exactly right. I mean there's been a lot of discussion about this internationally for and in recent years it has been predominantly asylum seekers and new people. There have been other political people who have resorted to hunger strikes as part of their protest and statement about their political situation. Actually at the moment, we've got hunger strikes in Berlin and Athens by asylum seekers and there's a big hunger strike happening in Turkey over Kurdish issues and there's been a lot in Australia where there's been a lot of discussion by doctors and the ethics of doctors and nurses actually intervening in hunger strikes by asylum seekers. So there's a very clear statement. I think doctors will be be very reluctant if there has been an expressed statement from the man that he just does not want to be treated. But we have seen situations in Australia where people have been force fed, but we'll just have to see how this plays out on Nauru at the moment. I mean we hope that the government actually intervenes much sooner before that becomes necessary.
COUTTS: So he Omid would have to sign a document himself saying no treatment. 
RINTOUL: Eh, no not necessarily. Actually as long as he has made. If that is what he wants to do, then a signed document is to his advantage in that respect. Normally doctors have to make a determinations that with or without a written statement of whether he was of sound mind and capable of making that decision and had expressed that decision not to be treated. There are very strong statements from health bodies that it is unethical for the doctors or nurses to actually intervene when there is an expressed view and a political statement about continuing the hunger strike. But in recent days in Australia we've certainly seen the Migration Act regulation override those kinds of things and there's been incidents of things of force feeding. I think what makes it particularly interesting about Nauru is that if the government does intervene, the Department does intervene and uses Australian Migration Act regulations as the excuse of the rationale, it will indicate actually who is really in charge in Nauru. But as I said, we're hopeful that the government will not allow the Australian Government will not allow this situation to deteriorate any further.
COUTTS: Well, what say does the Australian Government actually have having handed over the legalities and the processing to Nauru?
RINTOUL: Well, the truth is there are no laws governing operation in the detention centre in Nauru yet Geraldine. So it is the Immigration Department and they constantly refer to the detainees on Nauru as our clients. There is the Australian Government which is pulling the strings on Nauru, that much is obviously, even the fact that media personnel find it very hard to find any Nauru Government official that's prepared to say anything about the detention centre, for anything at all actually, even finding them is difficult. But there are no Nauru authorities at the detention centre. There has only been one time that they've actually been represented when Nauruan police went to the detention centre. But in terms of operational things on Nauru, the Nauru Government is nowhere to be seen. It's very clear it's the Australian Government. The ball is definitely in the Minister's court and I think if he allows this man's health to continue any further, if there is permanent damage to him and he's certainly at the time in the hunger strike where there could be permanent damage to his organs, then the responsibility will be the Australian Government's.
COUTTS: Well, are the numbers still around 300 who are on hunger strikes?
RINTOUL: Oh, look I think there are a few more people who did start to eat yesterday, but it still means we've got well over 200 people who are on hunger strike.
COUTTS: Well, if the health like Omid's declines is Nauru prepared and capable of treating and helping these people?
RINTOUL: I think it's very obvious that it's not. I mean even the case of the Iranian man they said they'll have to remove him to the Nauru Hospital. Even the scale if we're to see a serious deterioration there, even the scale of the numbers of people the medical centre would have to deal with rehydration would raise a question about whether that centre is able to deal with it. But if we get more people, the hunger strike goes on longer, more people become a situation where there could be permanent damage. It's that clear that Nauru's facilities aren't able to deal with that and we would hope what would happen has happened in the past under the Howard government the people were taken from Nauru to Queensland hospitals where they could be properly treated. But I really think we need to focus and the government needs to focus on ensuring that this doesn't go any further. Their demands remain the say. They want to be taken back to Australia. They want to be processed immediately and I think a statement to that affect. It's not an unreasonable thing to ask and I think the government's tough stance is politically motivated and it's entirely what's behind what's happening on Nauru. They've still got no indication of how long it's going to take before they're processed and there's still no indication of how long they'll be kept on Nauru (inaudible)  handling refugees there.


Contact the studio

Got something to say about what you're hearing on the radio right now?

Send your texts to +61 427 72 72 72

Add the hashtag #raonair to add your tweets to the conversation.

Email us your thoughts on an issue. Messages may be used on air.