Two new boats arrived in Australia at the beginning of 2012 carrying asylum seekers — as another group who survived a boat disaster began a hunger strike in Indonesia.
The December 18 boat disaster off the Indonesian island of Java left an estimated 200 dead.
Those who survived have begun a hunger strike after being moved to a detention center where as many as 12 people are sharing each cell and they claim they are being taunted by guards and kept in inhumane conditions.
”One of us has lost 11 members of his family,” said Noroz Yousefi, an Iranian asylum seeker.
”He is going crazy in here. There are 12 of us in one room and they won’t let us go outside, even to get some air.”
”When we asked, the guards shouted at us and said, ‘This is our country and we can do with you what we want.”’
Activists have put part of the blame for the tragedy on Australian policy.
“The policy of detaining asylum seekers in Indonesia means asylum seekers risk imprisonment if they contact authorities if they are concerned about the seaworthiness of any boat. The fact that Australia impounds and destroys the vessels that bring asylum seekers here means boats used are more likely to be unseaworthy. The crossing from Indonesia is these boats’ last voyage,” said Ian Rintoul, Refugee Action Collective (RAC) spokesperson.
“It doesn’t matter how unsafe the boat is, refugees will try to get to Australia because that is often the only place where they can be safe.”
Meanwhile, controversy has erupted over claims that new media guidelines on privacy could lead to the disappearance of media coverage of arriving boats on TV. The Immigration Department say non-identification of asylum seekers had long been department policy, in part because identification could pose a threat to the families of asylum seekers in their home countries. But they have also been criticized for blocking investigation of detention centers and allowing cameras into them.
Sue Bolton, a spokeswoman for RAC, told the Sydney Morning Herald that identification was an important part of ensuring asylum seekers did not become dehumanised but stressed their consent should be sought.
Asylum seekers protesting on the roof of the Villawood immigration detention centre in Sydney, Australia. Picture Wikimedia.