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Monday, 28 May, 2001, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
Australia refugees on hunger strike
Refugees arriving in Australia
Australia detains refugees upon arrival

From Phil Mercer in Sydney

Detainees at a remote refugee detention centre in Australia have gone on hunger strike in protest at a raid by armed police at the weekend.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock rejects police heavy-handedness
Refugee groups have accused the authorities of brutality, claiming women and children were beaten and handcuffed during the raid at the Port Hedland centre in Western Australia in which 22 asylum seekers were arrested and a cache of home-made weapons seized.

An Immigration Department spokesman said they were suspected of starting a riot at the camp two weeks ago.

The group representing Palestinian refugees inside the Port Hedland centre is claiming that around 200 detainees, including children, are on hunger strike.

Riot shields

It says they will continue their protest until those arrested on Saturday are released and charges against them dropped.

The Immigration Department estimates that about 50 people are involved in the hunger strike.

Chinese Immigrant in detention
Illegal immigrants complain of isolation
Those held are due before magistrates later on Monday.

They were arrested after an operation by 170 police and guards, equipped with riot shields, guns and batons.

Refugee groups say police handcuffed women and children and stormed a room used as a mosque.

But Australia's Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, has rejected allegations that his officers were heavy-handed and used excessive force.

Mr Ruddock said all but one of the 22 arrested suspects had their petitions for refugee status rejected before the disturbance earlier this month and were due to be sent home soon.

'Breach of rights'

At least six riots have occurred in the past year at the country's network of camps for asylum seekers.

Australia has detained all illegal immigrants since 1994.

Many are from the Middle East or West Asia.

They often arrive by boat, smuggled by criminal gangs operating out of Indonesia.

Their period of incarceration can last from a few weeks to years while their requests for refugee status are considered.

Amnesty International has condemned the camps as a breach of human rights.

The Australian Government says the mandatory detention of asylum seekers is a necessary way of controlling the growing numbers of illegal immigrants.

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See also:

22 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Immigrants riot in Australian camp
05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia immigrants riot in camp
05 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's detention camps criticised
25 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia may take fewer refugees
31 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Australia's migrant policy under fire
23 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
Australia cracks down on people smuggling
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