Culture

Australians Are Going On Hunger Strikes To Get Asylum Seekers Out Of Detention

"I know the precarious mental state these men are in and I know the callousness, the cruelty and the depths to which this government can sink. And I can’t live with that."

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Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but Australians seem to be getting pretty good at protesting again. Back in October two Melbourne University students locked themselves to a ladder on campus to call for the abolition of higher education fees, and former Wallabies captain David Pocock made headlines in November after locking himself to a bulldozer in protest against the controversial Leard State Forest mine in western New South Wales.

More recently, the ongoing detainment of refugees and asylum seekers in detention centres has been thrust back into the spotlight by several high-profile protest actions. Most prominently, the Australian Open men’s singles final on Sunday was briefly interrupted by a group of activists who invaded the court and displayed a banner calling for the Manus Island detention facility to be shut down, triggering a massive response on social media.

Yesterday four people were arrested after climbing onto the roof of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s electorate office in Manly and unfurling a banner reading “Hunger for Justice,” and passengers on a Qantas flight from Melbourne to Darwin delayed the transfer of a Tamil asylum seeker by refusing to sit down, ensuring the plane could not take off. Last week representatives of Christian movement Love Makes A Way, who have been staging sit-ins in Parliamentary offices for almost a year now, stripped down to their underwear on the steps of Perth Magistrates Court, partly in protest at their being strip-searched by police at an earlier sit-in.

But some are going a step further. Hunger for Justice, a group connected to several of the recent protests, are inviting people to give up food for up to a week in February as part of a rolling hunger strike in solidarity with detainees in the Manus Island and Darwin detention centres who are doing the same. Hundreds of asylum seekers on Manus Island went on strike several weeks ago, while fifteen detainees in Darwin have begun a strike of their own. One of the men, who has been on strike for several months, has lost more than 30 kilograms and is believed to be near death.

27-year old Sheree Joseph is halfway through a three-day hunger strike of her own (Disclaimer: Sheree works for the Sound Alliance, Junkee’s parent company). Joseph says she started the strike “as a simple act of solidarity with my friend” and “as a way of letting him know that he and the other hunger strikers are not alone.”

Joseph has received overwhelming support for her actions from family and friends, many of whom have written to the government directly to highlight her actions and show they share her concerns.

“At first I didn’t think I’d get through it, but when I saw the large-scale, direct action at the Australian Open, and when friends and followers quickly shared and engaged in what I was doing by writing letters to the government, I realised the power inherent in such an act that is shocking and which deviates from the norm,’ Joseph says. “As hard as the strike has been so far, I’ve drawn strength from that support and the idea that things are so much worse for those in Manus, Nauru and Darwin, and even for those asylum seekers living in the community who live in limbo and fear of being returned to the places that persecute them.”

For his part, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said the government’s “resolve will not be swayed one bit by a change in behaviour,” and that “they [the detainees] will never be settled in Australia.”

You can find more information about Hunger for Justice here.

Feature image via Call to Action/Facebook.