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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December, 2003, 08:31 GMT
Australia shifts on Nauru protest
Unidentified asylum seeker on Nauru
Some protesters have claimed to have stitched their lips together
The Australian Government has said it will investigate a widening hunger strike by asylum seekers at an offshore detention centre.

Having previously brushed off calls from refugee groups to intervene in the protest, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said on Friday that the government would send two representatives to the Pacific island of Nauru early next week to speak to the protesters.

As the hunger strike entered its ninth day, the Immigration Department said that 35 men were now refusing food, and at least 15 have been taken to hospital.

Australia has one of the world's strictest immigration policies, detaining all asylum seekers without visas in high-security camps.

Ms Vanstone said former Immigration Minister John Hodges and Afghan community leader Gholam Aboss would visit Nauru to investigate the plight of the hunger strikers and to try to find a solution.

But she added that all had had their asylum claims heard and were found "not to be refugees".

On Wednesday, Ms Vanstone had said that because the refugees were not on Australian territory, they were not Canberra's responsibility.

And she said that if they did not like it in the Nauru centre they could go home.

Canberra set up detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea in 2001, and deployed its navy to divert all boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia to those camps.

Thirty-four of the protesters are from Afghanistan and one is from Pakistan.

Australia's second offshore detention centre for would-be immigrants, in Papua New Guinea, was closed in July. The country has five centres within its own borders.

Those housed in offshore camps are denied appeal rights in Australian courts if their asylum applications are refused.

There have been a string of hunger strikes and protests in Australia's detention camps, which together house about 1,200 people.

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