Hunger Strikers Treated in Australian Hospital
CANBERRA (Reuters) - Three youths who sewed their lips together were treated for dehydration as a hunger strike by detainees at one of Australia's controversial camps for illegal immigrants entered its fifth day, officials said on Sunday.
Detainees at Woomera, the nation's biggest and most remote outback camp, began a hunger strike last Wednesday to protest the length of time it takes to process visa applications.
An Immigration Department spokeswoman said 189 Afghani detainees were refusing food and water, 55 of them with sewn lips. The number of hunger strikers was down from 210 on Saturday.
The spokeswoman said three youths, aged 12 to 15, needed treatment at a nearby hospital overnight where they had stitches removed from their lips, were given food and fluid then sent back to the camp.
A fourth child needed medical treatment at the camp, which houses about 863 mainly Middle Eastern and Afghani asylum seekers.
``...Being children, they suffered from dehydration faster,'' the spokeswoman told Reuters.
``But the number involved in the hunger strike has dropped today, with 189 in total of which 14 are males aged under 18 and 10 women under 18.''
The spokeswomen said other detainees tried to harm themselves in various ways overnight and guards had attempted to intervene. One detainee was taken to hospital after drinking disinfectant.
On Friday, a guard who tried to prevent some of the hunger strikers from sewing their lips together was attacked with rocks and needed hospital treatment.
The hunger strike is the latest in a series of sometimes violent demonstrations and escapes at Woomera, which is located in desert 295 miles north of Adelaide.
Last month as many as 300 detainees rampaged for three consecutive nights, setting fire to buildings and injuring 21 staff by throwing rocks and other objects.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has said no protest will influence official decisions.
The president of the Independent Council for Refugee Advocacy, Marion Le, said she received a faxed statement from the hunger strikers on Sunday claiming they were being persecuted by the Australian government.
``We are requesting that the international community intervene and remove us from Australia's barbaric immigration policy which locks men, women and children behind razor wires for months, even years at a time,'' Le told reporters the statement said.
``We are refugees who have been persecuted in our countries of origin and have sought refuge in what we thought was a humane country. The Immigration Department is ignoring the fact we are genuine asylum seekers by blocking their eyes and their ears.''
Australia has one of the world's toughest regimes for dealing with illegal immigrants. Those who arrive illegally or overstay their visas are automatically detained in secure camps. Assessments and appeals can take years.
The mandatory detention of asylum seekers and a government policy adopted last August of turning away boats carrying asylum seekers has attracted fierce criticism from human rights groups.