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March 8, 2011

VILLAWOOD TAMILS’ CONDITION WORSENS ON SEVENTH DAY OF DRY HUNGER STRIKE

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media Release, March 8 2011

After seven days of a dry (ie not taking water or food) the condition of three Tamil refugees at Villawood detention is deteriorating. The refugees have signed authorities for two Tamil community to make decision on their behalf should they become

Refugee advocates concerns are growing that the hunger strike could leave the refugees with permanent damage.

“We are at a stage in the hunger strike where medical advice says they could be left with permanent physical damage. The refugees have been told that immigration officers will come to meet with them, but that meeting hasn’t happened yet. If the department leaves it much longer, it may be too late. They should have access to immigration officials and UNHCR immediately,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“The hunger strikers tried to take water on Sunday but they vomited it back. They have told us that it is better not to try than to suffer trying to drink. They are no longer feeling thirsty or having hunger pains.”

The three refugees are part of a growing number of asylum seekers (presently 17 Tamils and one Rohingya) found to be refugees but denied visas because of an ASIO adverse security finding.

“The three refugees are growing weaker physically and mentally. They are already finding it difficult to walk and are in considerable pain,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

The refugees wrote to the immigration department on 25 February seeking an answer by 1 March to their request that they either be resettled in Australia or a “third country in a short period of time.”

The three refugees have spent 19 months in detention. One of them was found to be a refugee in September 2009. The Commonwealth Ombudsman has recommended that people waiting longer than six months for security assessments could be released with stringent reporting requirements.

“ASIO’s adverse security finding effectively condemns these refugees to indefinite detention. And there is no right of review. ASIO is a law unto itself,” said Rintoul.

“One of the Tamils had already spent a year in a Sri Lankan torture camp before escaping to Australia. The Tamils have been victims of torture and repression. There is no real evidence that any of the refugees are a threat to Australia’s security.

“If ASIO and the government are so sure that the security assessment is right, why won’t they allow an independent review of the decision? They are hiding behind a veil of secrecy of their own making. For anyone familiar with the situation of the Rohingya minority in Burma, the adverse security finding against the Rohingya refugee completely lacks credibility.

“We are urging the government to act urgently in the cases of the Tamil hunger strikers. The least the government can do is allow them to see immigration officers and the UNHCR which is involved in finding third countries for refugees in this situation. This is no time to be playing with people’s lives.”

A protest highlighting ASIO’s role in delayed security assessments and adverse security findings will be held outside the Sydney Immigration Department office at 22 Lee Street, City at 12.30pm, Thursday 10 March. Speakers include Julian Gormley, barrister representing some of the adverse security refugees, Tin Anderson, Political Economy lecturer; Bala Vigneswaran from the Tamil community, and Kyaw Maung, Rohingya community.

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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