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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 December, 2003, 05:15 GMT
Nauru hunger strike protest grows
By Phil Mercer
BBC, Sydney

More than 40 detainees are now on hunger strike at Australia's offshore immigration camp on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru.

At least 18 are in hospital, some vowing to starve themselves to death if the Australian Government continues to reject their claims for asylum.

Unidentified asylum seeker on Nauru
Some protesters have stitched their lips together
The action began two weeks ago when some protesters sewed up their lips.

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the decision not to grant them visas would not be reversed.

Doctors on Nauru have said medical services on the island are being stretched to the limit as the hunger strike enters a third week.

Senior staff have expressed fears that detainees could die if a solution is not found soon.

A delegation sent by the government to assess the health and mood of the protesters has reported back to the immigration minister.

It appears both sides are refusing to budge.

War of wills

Amanda Vanstone has been told the men are determined to continue refusing food.

The authorities in Canberra have again insisted they have no intention of bowing to any pressure.

Forty-one men, mostly Afghans, are taking part in the hunger strike.

Their claims for asylum have been rejected and they have been offered a repatriation package.

The detainees have insisted they will face persecution if they are sent home. Afghanistan's ambassador to Australia, Mahmoud Saikal, has urged Canberra to give the 284 boat people on Nauru temporary asylum until his country's economy is strong enough to re-integrate them.

Newspaper reports here suggest New Zealand is considering offering sanctuary to some of the detainees.

Amanda Vanstone's response has been typically blunt.

Australia's immigration minister said if the international community was unhappy with the situation on Nauru it was welcome to accept any of the asylum seekers.

Australia shifts on Nauru protest
19 Dec 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Nauru hunger strikers in hospital
15 Dec 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Australia's Pacific Solution
26 Sep 02  |  Correspondent
Country profile: Nauru
31 Jan 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Nauru
18 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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