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Detainees continue protesting

April 24, 2011

As a protest at Sydney’s Villawood detention centre entered its fifth day, immigration officials have downplayed reports of a mass hunger strike at Western Australia’s Curtin facility.

Three protesters remained on the roof of Villawood detention centre on Easter Sunday afternoon.

Two of them had been there since Wednesday, when a riot involving up to 100 detainees broke out, leaving nine buildings gutted by fire.

Twenty-two of the protesters were earlier this week transferred to Silverwater Correctional Centre and questioned by police.

Officials from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship were waiting to negotiate with the remaining three protesters, but only if they came down from the roof at Villawood, a spokeswoman said.

”We are prepared to meet them,” she said.

Social Justice Network spokesman Jamal Daoud said security staff were not allowing anyone access to the protesters, leaving them without food or water.

”They’re getting water on the roof but they have to come down to get food,” a department spokesman said on Sunday afternoon.

Well known for speaking out on behalf of refugees and detainees, Mr Daoud complained he was handcuffed and forced to kneel after an argument with police on Saturday afternoon at the centre.

He said he was taken to Bankstown police station and later released with a $350 fine.

”The police officers were acting with deep hate, disregard for basic civil rights,” Mr Daoud said.

In Western Australia, Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said a hunger strike and sit-in involving about 300 detainees at Curtin Airbase detention centre, in the state’s remote West Kimberley region, was expected to escalate.

The protest against visitors being prevented from going to the centre over the Easter weekend began on Saturday morning, Mr Rintoul said.

”The asylum seekers are asking that they be allowed to see refugee supporters who have travelled from Perth and other cities to see them over the Easter weekend,” Mr Rintoul said in a statement on Sunday.

The Immigration Department downplayed the claim, saying about 150 Afghan refugees had started a ”peaceful protest” on Saturday afternoon.

”I can confirm that some people skipped a meal but it’s not unusual to do that,” a spokeswoman said.

She added that there was food available at the centre’s canteen, and that snacks like noodles were available in the tea room, which meant some detainees sometimes skipped meals in favour of snacks.

”The centre is calm. There are just some people sitting in the outdoor recreation area at the centre,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Australia Greens have urged the federal government to increase its refugee intake by about 50 per cent.

Greens federal MP Adam Bandt suggested the government lift the number of refugees accepted into Australia to 20,000 a year.

”Our view is that we should have a quick and humane process and, of course, if someone is found not to be a refugee or we have reached our limit, then we should, of course, return them safely, provided it is within our legal obligations,” Mr Bandt told the Ten Network on Sunday.

He recommended that asylum-seeker applications be processed within 30 days.

”It gives enough time for security and health checks,” he said.

AAP   


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