If accurate, the number represents around three quarters of the facilities detainee population.
It is understood that at least 10 people have received medical treatment, after suffering from what the Australian Immigration Department has called 'heat exhaustion.' Refugee groups say up to 30 people have collapsed in the past 24 hours, but that number cannot be independently verified.
The Immigration Department has accused advocacy groups of exaggerating the number of protesters and the severity of the medical problems they're encountering. A department spokesman has told Pacific Beat that all detainees, including those on hunger strike, have ready access to food, water and medical care, and that the situation is being carefully monitored.
The Salvation Army has been tasked with observing detainees who may be showing signs of distress or mental health issues and referring them to the official health provider, International Health and Medical Services.
Presenter: Corinne Podger
Speaker: Major Paul Moulds, director of social programs, Salvation Army
MOULDS: What I can say is the situation is variable. It is hard as the Department of Immigration rightly says. It is hard at times to determine who actually abstaining from food and whose not. There is a large number of people who are participating in that, but I think different people are coming in and out of it at different time and so it is hard to get a grasp on the actual numbers involved in this. But certainly people are protesting I guess in a peaceful way, they're obviously voicing a discontent about their situation.
PODGER: The Immigration Department has said that 200 meals were served yesterday. So as you understand it, how many people are actually taking part in the strike, because that is quite a lot of meals for 300 alleged hunger strikers out of around I understand 377 people in total are detained?
MOULDS: Look, that's correct and I have to agree it's just really hard to tell, because there is ample food in the centre and food is available at lots of different places in the centre, not just at meals and I think people are participating at different times in taking food and it is really hard to get a grasp of the numbers. I wish I could be more certain of that, but like the Immigration Department has said it is very hard to actually see who potentially with that large number of people, who is eating and who is not.
I think what we can say is that there are obviously a number of people who are unhappy, extremely unhappy with their circumstances there and they are seeking to show some way in a limited way that they can how they feel about that.
PODGER: Now the number, it may be difficult as you say to get an idea of whose participating and whether that's in a solid way or perhaps in a symbolic way to a certain extent, but people collapsing is a much clearer thing. Can we confirm the number refugee advocates are saying of 30 people and also while you're answering that do we know why? Is it heat exhaustion or is it hunger or other medical issues?
MOULDS: Yeah, certainly I'm not being made aware that the numbers are anything like that of people who have collapsed. There are people who are seeking help and seeking medical attention, needing medical attention, but I can't ascertain what those numbers were or confirm what those numbers were I'm sorry.
PODGER: I mean the role as I understand it of the Salvation Army on Nauru is to identify and to refer on people to medical professionals. So if you're unclear, then it's very difficult to be clear about why the numbers and what's actually going on?
MOULDS: Look, people have consistent access to health care. They can at anytime request to see a doctor or a nurse. Those facilities are available all the time, 24 hours a day to people in the centre and they do access those and what goes on between the people at the centre, the asylum seekers and their medical providers is confidential and we don't have access to that and people are accessing their services and that's what I can confirm is happening that help is being provided and that is available.
PODGER: Now, one of the issues that people are or reportedly are protesting about is not just the length of time they'll be on Nauru, but the conditions there and you spend most of your working days there. How would you describe it yourself?
MOULDS: Yeah, it's definitely a harsh, hot environment, there's no doubt about that. I mean look what gives us comfort to some extent is that there are developed plans that we have witnessed and seen to actually improve those conditions. At the moment, things are very harsh. People are sleeping under tents. The tents are hot, there's no doubt about it. I have to say that our staff also are under exactly the same tents. There isn't enough in anyway enough accommodation for staff on the island and so a number of our staff are sleeping under canvas, exactly the same tents and it is uncomfortable and it is difficult.
We live all of us, both asylum seekers and staff I think in the hope that in the not to distant future, conditions will improve. The Federal Government does have plans to build structures and to aircondition those structures, so things will be better in the future. At the moment, they are very difficult, there's no doubt about that.
PODGER: There was a meeting on Saturday between detainees and the Department in relation to this. What was the outcome of that meeting?
MOULDS: I think of questions asked and the Immigration Department's attempts to explain things that sometimes they are still working out with the Nauruan Government. I'm not sure. You'd have to ask the Immigration Department what they felt the outcome of the meeting was.
PODGER: OK. And just briefly, there has been criticism flying both ways between the Immigration Department and refugee advocates regarding numbers, regarding situations on the ground. It is very difficult to get an accurate picture of what's going on. That's not just for the media, but raised as an issue by the Australian Human Rights Commission President last week. Do you feel a little bit caught in the middle of that and would you like to see anything done to improve the flow of information in your view?
MOULDS: We're caught in the middle. I think people often misunderstand our role in the centre and look, we are entirely there for the welfare and the benefit of the asylum seekers. We everyday are working there what is a difficult situation a little bit more tolerable. We look forward to the day as they do when facilities will improve. We look forward to the day as they do when the information around how they can begin this process of applying for refugee status is available and the paperwork can begin. I mean we share that journey with the everyday, the angst of that journey, the pain of that journey. So our role we're very clear about. It is to be a support to them, to try and make life a little bit more tolerable in a difficult situation.