Asylum seeker hunger strike enters seventh week

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney

UPDATE: Chinese Asylum Seeker Ends Hunger Strike After 54 Days.

A Chinese man in Australian immigration detention is still refusing food, seven weeks after starting his hunger strike.

Jen Wen Zhang, a detainee at Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, has refused food since October 20. Mr Zhang and five other Chinese asylum seekers began the strike in protest at Australia's Mandatory Detention policy. Five of the six hunger strikers ended their protest in November.

The Department of Immigration (DIMIA) says Mr Zhang is continuing his hunger strike after being hospitalised a fortnight ago. Now back in Villawood he is being closely monitored. A DIMMIA spokesperson said Mr Zhang was being urged to end his strike. The government continues to resist Mr Zhang's protest. "As the minister said, his actions will not influence his migration status or outcomes," said the spokesperson.

Victorian Greens refugees spokesman, Peter Job, has been speaking to Mr Zhang, and said the asylum seeker is determined to continue to strike despite his ailing health. Mr Job said Mr Zhang believes he was denied a fair hearing from the Immigration Department and the Refugee Review Tribunal, but was taking political action for all detained asylum seekers.

"He felt he had no option but to fight in the only way he could, with his body," said Mr Job. "But above all, he spoke of his dread of long-term detention, telling of waking continually in the morning with a sense of profound despair and foreboding due to his incarceration, and telling me he feared the mental health damage he had seen in so many long-term detainees," he said.

Mr Job says he has tried to convince Mr Zhang to stop the hunger strike, but says he is in a desperate state. "He is very upset, he feels that he will be in great danger if he returns to China," Mr Job said. "He said he'd rather die here in Australia than go back to China, where he's convinced he'll be persecuted.

Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) spokesman Ian Rintoul said the Immigration Department has been riddled with problems and too often rejected long-term detainees who are genuine refugees.

"The government itself has recognised there have been many mistakes in the department's processes, there have been many problems with the way asylum seekers have been dealt with," Mr Rintoul said. "That's why we're desperately trying to urge the government to intervene in this particular case."

Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said in mid November that the Government has done all it can for the Chinese asylum seeker. "I don't support this kind of protest, I don't think anyone does, I recognise the risk it can play for the protesters themselves," she said. "I've written to them urging them to get off their protest and making it clear to them that the Government doesn't consider cases while people are engaging in this sort of potentially very harmful protest."

Another Villawood detainee, Motahar Hussein, says Mr Zheng's health has drastically deteriorated and suspects that vital organs have experienced permanent damage.

"Though DIMIA continuously attempts to devise creative ways of crushing Mr. Jun Wen Zhang's spirit, he will not be easily intimidated," said Mr Hussein in a media release. "He is willing and determined to continue with his peaceful and civilised protest. He believes he has no other option. He finds himself compelled to do so by the Howard Government's policy of inhumane and indefinite detention. He is prepared to continue to the supreme and utmost sacrifice of his own life, hopefully, in an attempt to expose DIMIA's attitude of injustice and corruption."