On April 13, the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) reported that Yuan Hui Min had been taken from Villawood detention centre to hospital. She is one of ten detainees on hunger strike in protest at the "unjust situation of detention". The hunger strikers are calling for an end to forcible deportations, a maximum detention period of six months and for the immediate release of two detainees being held incommunicado.
Yuan is 54 years old and was hospitalised on a previous occasion during the strike, when she was told she had kidney problems, was rehydrated and then returned to detention.
On April 6, another detainee was hospitalised when his eyesight failed. Yet he was returned to Villawood where he remains on hunger strike amid fears he may suffer permanent eyesight damage.
The hunger strikers received a letter from the immigration department urging them to end the protest, stating that the government "does not respond to these actions". Yet they remain defiant despite declining health. One protester told RAC, "We think that immigration should meet to talk with us".
RAC spokesperson Ian Rintoul said on April 13: "We are urging the [immigration] minister to act urgently. Every day that passes is another day of injustice that the hunger strikers and other asylum seekers suffer. These people have a real fear of what will happen to them and others if they are deported. The minister is now literally playing with these people's lives."
The two Chinese men who continue to be held incommunicado in the centre's management unit have no access to their lawyer. According to Rintoul, the immigration department has stalled efforts to arrange for a doctor to examine the men. "After the Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon scandals we were told that there would be culture change in the immigration department. But the punitive and adversarial mentality remains. It is an absolute disgrace that asylum seekers should have to resort to a hunger strike to get a semblance of justice."
After their first two weeks on hunger strike, the 10 detainees released a statement outlining their demands and accusing the government of using long-term detention to "blackmail" asylum seekers into accepting "wrongful decisions" and coercing people into accepting deportation despite endangering the safety of asylum seekers.
"We are urging the government to meet with the hunger strikers", Rintoul said. "No-one is asking for special treatment. In 2005, Chinese asylum seekers were on hunger strike for up to 55 days before their cases were reviewed and [they were] subsequently released. The ball is in the ministers' court."