Australia denies mass immigrant hunger strike

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Australia has denied that hundreds of immigrants have gone on a mass hunger strike at a facility in Melbourne, while insisting conditions at the facility are not “inhumane or brutal.”

Days after detainees and activists declared a hunger strike in a protest against living conditions, the Australian Border Force said there was no “mass hunger strike” at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation.

“While some detainees are refusing to attend regular meal times as part of a protest, they continue to eat and drink in other parts of the facility,” the border force said in a statement.

But activist Ian Rentoul of the Refugee Action Coalition said the “hunger strike protest” was now in its fourth day.

Detainees launched the protest over complaints of prison-like conditions and limited privacy.

Thirty-year-old New Zealander John Vaofusi, who lost automatic residency rights after being convicted for assault, earlier told AFP said he would continue the hunger strike “until we see some change.”

“I feel like I´m in jail again,” he said. “I´ve done my time for that crime.”

The border force defended conditions inside the centre, saying “the detention population has changed considerably in recent years.”

It added “a significant number” of the detained population had “their visa cancelled on character grounds, based on criminal convictions and links to criminal associations such as outlaw motorcycle gangs or organised crime.”

Successive conservative and Labor governments have upheld a decades-old policy of mandatory detention for “unlawful non-citizens” even for minor offences like visa overstays.

Hunger strikes are a frequent occurrence at Australia´s onshore detention facilities, which house people who have run afoul of immigration law.

Last year hundreds of detainees at a centre in Sydney went on hunger strike against strict visitation rules.

Detainees have also used short-lived strikes to garner media coverage and put pressure on Australia´s conservative government to close the facilities.