Asylum seekers continue to hunger strike at Western Australia’s Curtin Immigration Detention Centre, but officials and refugee supporters differ over numbers involved.
A peaceful protest at the Kimberley facility continued on Tuesday as Immigration Minister Chris Bowen announced government plans to toughen laws to deter violent behaviour at detention centres.
The proposed changes would mean anyone convicted of criminal conduct while in immigration detention would automatically be denied a protection visa under character test rules.
The move follows riots and the burning of accommodation tents at the Christmas Island detention centre in March and recent riots at Villawood in Sydney, where detainees burned down buildings.
An immigration spokeswoman said on Tuesday that 12 detainees at Curtin had advised staff they were on “voluntary starvation”, as part of a peaceful protest that started at the centre on Saturday.
“Beyond that there have been some detainees who have skipped meals over the past couple of days.
“But that’s not necessarily unusual and snack food is available to them,” she said. Around 80 mainly Afghan detainees were on Tuesday engaged in a peaceful protest at the centre but numbers fluctuated, the spokeswoman said.
On Monday, around 20 protesting detainees required minor treatment at the facility’s medical centre after being out in the heat.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul, who has been protesting with refugee supporters outside the centre, said on Tuesday that 109 detainees were on full hunger strike.
He said up to 500 people did not report for breakfast on Tuesday morning, in a continuing protest over delays in processing asylum claims.
Mr Rintoul said some asylum seekers at the centre had been waiting over 20 months for ASIO security clearances, after being told they had been granted refugee status. “Chris Bowen’s draconian laws will not stop the protests,” he said.
“Chris Bowen needs to address the underlying problems of lives being devastated by mandatory detention,” Mr Rintoul said.
In a protest outside the Curtin centre on Monday, refugee supporters knocked down a temporary fence after learning they had been refused permission for a delegation to meet asylum seekers.
On Sunday, 15 protesters outside the centre were issued with move-on notices by police after obstructing a road near the centre.