A hunger strike of 35 detainees in the Villawood immigration detention centre was initiated on March 28, sparked by the actions of Global Solutions Ltd (GSL) guards under the instructions of the immigration department. GSL guards snatched a Chinese woman from her bed in LIMA, the single women's compound at Villawood. Dressed only in her pyjamas, she was dragged screaming from the compound and was deported only hours later.
This was in violation of an understanding with the department that at least 48 hours' notice will be given for any deportation. According to a Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) press release, the woman was a member of Falun Gong, a religious sect persecuted by the Chinese government.
Also unknown is the whereabouts of An Xiang Tao — another Falun Gong practioner who was taken from Villawood to hospital on the night of March 27 after being forcibly taken from stage 2 to the high security stage 1 section of Villawood. He may be being held incommunicado in the stage 3 section, which is being renovated, but there has been no contact with him.
According to RAC, An's deportation was stopped a month ago by a detainee protest inside Villawood. Around 100 detainees created a human shield around An to physically prevent guards removing him.
An arrived in Australia in 2000 and has been in detention for four years. Motahar Hussein, a RAC activist and former Villawood detainee, noted: "An Xiang Tao is on a short deportation list of those 11 Chinese whose identity was disclosed to Chinese government by immigration officers through a forceful interview by the Chinese government officials arranged in Villawood detention centre."
One of the detainees told RAC that it is "100% sure" that An will face persecution if he goes back to China. "He is well known, even on the internet, as a Falun Gong practitioner. Everyone in here knows him very well. This is a very serious situation for us."
On the night of March 28 a Tanzanian asylum seeker was taken to hospital after slashing himself with broken glass. His condition and whereabouts are also unknown. Hussein said, "Two weeks prior to these deportations, two other detainees were deported. A Nepalese man, in Villawood detention for three years, was deported. A Filipino woman was deported that same week. This is despite these detainees having considerable support from the outside community. There are 150 detainees still left in Villawood detention centre — they are all well-aware that [this] wave of unlawful inhumane deportations could include them. They are desperate and prepared to continue the hunger strike."
The asylum seekers on hunger strike are demanding an end to the forced deportations; for the immigration department to follow up and provide information about the fate of those already deported; and for an end to mandatory detention.