The hunger strike enters its eighth day today.
Refugee advocates say about 300 people are still refusing food, a number which is disputed by the Australian Immigration Department.
Refugee advocates say they are planning a day of protests in Australia today, in solidarity with the detainees in Nauru.
Presenter: Campbell Cooney
Speaker: Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Coalition, Australia
RINTOUL: The numbers are very, very steady, still around 300 people who are on hunger strike. An Iranian man is yet another day since the 28th day of his hunger strike, so there's no sign at all that there's any relenting on the rest.
COONEY: Alright now as you heard there in the introduction the Department of Immigration disputes the figures that's been put out by advocates such as yourself. Do they have any point, is there some point of agreement here when it comes to these numbers and what is actually happening over there?
RINTOUL: No there doesn't seem to be any particular agreement about the numbers precisely. But what there clearly is agreement is that there is a very significant number of people who are on hunger strike, and I think that's the thing that we should focus on. I've heard that Wilson Security, looks like the Department of Immigration has got Wilson Security taking photographs of people who are eating, but really this is a kind of ridiculous behaviour, is there something that's going to be proved by those photos? There is agreement that there is a hunger strike, there is agreement that the people have not been told how long they're going to be on Nauru, they've not been told when they're going to be processed. And I think those are the issues that have to be addressed.
COONEY: You mentioned the Iranian man, 27 days that's right? But most of the 380 asylum seekers, there's a Sri Lankan, there's some Afghans, Pakistanis, Iranians and also Iraqis. Who are mainly taking part in the hunger strike as far as a country of origin?
RINTOUL: Well the majority of people who are on Nauru are Sri Lankans, and even though there's probably the biggest number of people who haven't been involved in the hunger strike as well, the people who haven't been involved have been a group of Sri Lankans and a group of Pakistanis. But it means the overwhelming majority of all the groupings on Nauru are involved in the hunger strikes; so it's the Sri Lankans, the Iranians, the Afghans, the Iraqis and Pakistanis, everyone's involved, people are united, and I think they're united because there is no offer of processing for anyone. There is such a unity in the camp because that affects absolutely everyone. No clear indication of when they're going to be processed, no clear indication of how long they're going to be on Nauru. And they're welded together I think the more they hear the number of people who are arriving in Australia since the 13th of August, the more obvious it is to them that they have been singled out for special treatment, they have been victimised by the Australian government for no obvious reason at all.
COONEY: Alright now the points of contention of course as you mentioned lack of processing, lack of facilities. Are the facilities being put into place, moving out of that tent city that exists there now into proper facilities which will hopefully combat some of the heat? Summer's starting to come, it's going to get even hotter than what it is there now and it's probably going to get even drier?
RINTOUL: Well the physical conditions are getting worse and worse. There was a small indication that some permanent shelters might start being built at the end of this month, but with the wet season in Nauru it's very unlikely that these are going to be finished, built, available any time soon, it's probably going to be early next year before those things are going to be addressed. But frankly spreading the detention centre, building of those further shelters I don't think is going to do one thing in terms of the real issues on Nauru. I mean the physical conditions of the place, actual facilities available are inadequate, I think that's very, very obvious, and the government I think created Nauru with those intolerable conditions as part of the camp to actually force people to agree to so-called voluntary return. But even that has now become obvious, that there's not going to be any mass exodus of people agreeing to leave Nauru, which says something about their substantial refugee claims. I think unless the government actually does address that issue of processing, then the circumstances on Nauru are going to get worse.
COONEY: Yesterday on another issue the Salvation Army in Australia released a statement defending its work on Nauru. It said it's there providing welfare support, it denied allegations that it's been cutting off access to those involved in the protest to the internet, something that they run. That they are there, they do not support the policy of the government or the opposition, but they feel that it's their humanitarian duty to have a presence there. They said that when the protest starts their access is limited, but they are not happy with the way that they have been portrayed in the media in Australia. Do they have a point?
RINTOUL: Well no I don't think they do actually. I think it's very good that the Salvation Army have cleared up some of those issues but their actual stance on offshore processing and the creation of Nauru, on their role in terms of inside the detention centre. And I think now it is very obvious that it is the Immigration Department and Wilson Security that pulls the strings, and when they say we're going to shut the detention centre down, the Salvation Army don't get any say in that. But I really do think the Salvation Army is going to have to reflect on its relationship with the Immigration Department and the kind of role that it's accepted responsibility for inside the detention centre if it wants to differentiate itself and make it very clear that it is on the side of humanitarian treatment on Nauru, and not on the side of the Immigration Department and Wilson Security.
COONEY: Well again I suppose it comes back to the point that they have made, they don't support the policy but the point I think that was made in the statement was that if they aren't there providing that humanitarian support, then it's probably unlikely going to be anyone else who's going to jump in and do it for them. They were quite open as well that yes they are being funded to do this by the government as well?
RINTOUL: Yeah I think perhaps they're the meat in the sandwich, but as I said the idea that it should be them who have got control of the keys of the computer centre and the phone room does mean that when Immigration instructs the detention centre to be closed down, those facilities are shut off. In the other detention centres in Australia for example it would be Serco who had control of that, it would be clear that Serco is the management of the detention centres in Australia. The problem I think the Salvation Army has got is that it looks like the Salvation Army is actually playing that role on Nauru, and I think that's what it has to be very, very careful about, because the ability for people who are affected by that detention centre, look at the Salvation Army and see it's difficult to differentiate the roles that are actually being played there. In terms of the services it's a discussion that we've had in many other situations, but a clear voice from the Salvation Army, and the release of that statement was very good, to say it was opposed to the offshore processing. But a clear statement from the Salvation Army that Nauru should be closed and that they're going to withdraw their services, because to that extent they are some part of this, that they will not collaborate with the kind of treatment which is being dished out on Nauru, that would be a very strong stance.
COONEY: We'll have to wait till it happens. Just quickly and finally there, the Red Cross reportedly considering observers to Nauru, something your coalition would welcome?
RINTOUL: Absolutely, independent observers are desperately needed on Nauru, despite about the Salvation Army I don't really feel at the moment that the detainees themselves feel that they've got some kind of voice and any kind of independent observer that they can go to, to get their message across or for someone to actually have some independent look at what is actually happening on Nauru.