Australian asylum protest spreads
Hunger strikes among asylum seekers detained in Australia, some of whom have sewn their lips together, have spread to a second detention centre.
Fifty of more than 200 mainly Afghan asylum seekers hunger-striking at the remote Woomera centre have sewn their mouths shut in protest against a freeze on the processing of their claims.
The controversy grew on Wednesday with the resignation of a senior adviser to the Australian Government on immigration in protest at the government's treatment of asylum seekers.
And at least 25 asylum seekers at the Maribyrnong centre in the southern city of Melbourne have joined the strike.
The hospitalised protesters had swallowed a mixture of pain killers and shampoo after immigration officials started force-feeding those suffering dehydration - which had already led to the hospitalisation of three others.
Neville Roach, who chairs the Council for Multicultural Australia, quit his post "in sadness" saying compassion seemed to have been "thrown out the door" in the country's asylum policy.
While the detainees are protesting about the length of time taken to process their applications for asylum, Mr Roach targeted government rhetoric on the issue, saying it fuelled prejudice.
In August Prime Minister John Howard's administration adopted a hard-line approach by turning away all asylum seekers who attempted to enter Australia by boat.
The policy was dramatically realised in the government's refusal to allow hundreds of mainly Afghan refugees to land that month, leaving them stranded on the Norwegian ship, the Tampa, in Australia's Indian Ocean.
Canberra then made a deal with several South Pacific islands to take unwanted asylum seekers in return for cash, which Australia called the "Pacific solution" and critics labelled "tropical gulags".
"I think the way in which the government has handled these issues - beginning I think with the Tampa - has tended to give comfort to the prejudiced side of human nature," Mr Roach told local media.
"We have no hope, we have no future," the detainees wrote in a letter published on Tuesday by the Sydney Morning Herald. "We only request the Australian people help us, otherwise we have no choice but to continue the hunger strike until the end of our life."
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has described the lip-sewing action as offensive and says the government will not be "blackmailed", arguing that the immigrants could always return home.
Human Rights Commissioner Sev Ozdowski has said he is concerned that Australia could be breaching international conventions on the treatment of children by detaining them in these camps.
The authorities, in turn, say they are concerned that the children are at risk from their parents who are mutilating them to gain sympathy.
The processing of asylum claims can take from months up to five years, during which time would-be immigrants are kept in detention centres.
The Australian government has imposed a freeze on processing applications from about 2,000 Afghans after the Taleban regime fell last year.