Detainees at three more centres join Yongah Hill hunger protests

8:21 am on 22 January 2019

People being held in three more Australian detention centres, many of them New Zealanders, have joined the hunger protest started by detainees at the Yongah Hill facility in Perth.

Some New Zealanders in Yongah Hill Detention Centre mess hall where they have been kept since riots.

There are about 350 detainees at the Yongah Hill facility, about 50 of whom are New Zealanders. Photo: Supplied.

The detainees at Yongah Hill are now entering their ninth day with next to no food.

Detainees from Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney, Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation and Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation joined the protest yesterday morning.

Robin Leota, who's originally from Mangere in South Auckland, said hearing that the protest had spread outside the confines of Yongah Hill Detention Centre gave him hope.

"I'm a bit depleted, tired. Especially with this heat; it's getting to be 45°C out here."

Mr Leota served a two-year prison sentence for drug-related offending and was subsequently sent to Yongah.

His wife and children are in Brisbane and he said they could not just pack up and go back to New Zealand.

He has not been able to see them since April last year, when he was sent the 4300km to Western Australia.

"This is double jeopardy. We've already done our time in jail and now we're being put into a detention centre without a release date.

"Some people haven't even done a crime and they're in there."

He had been drinking some milk and having one protein shake a day but no solid food.

Australia's immigration authorities continue to deny there is any hunger strike taking place.

"It's just starting to take a toll being away from our families and stuff. Like, they're moving us into the middle of the desert up here in Perth. I'm from Brisbane but we've got people from Sydney in here, from Melbourne," Mr Leota said.

"They're systematically separating us from our families so we can't get any visits."

The detainees' list of grievances included what they call the unaccountable use of force by security officials; the arbitrary nature of their punishment; and the apparently indefinite powers of the government to keep them locked up.

There are about 350 detainees at the Yongah Hill facility, about 50 of whom are New Zealanders.

About 400 people are being held at the Sydney detention centre and 100 at each of the Melbourne and Brisbane facilities.

Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition said that a large number of the detainees at all the facilities were New Zealanders.

He said the effects of the hunger strike were starting to become apparent in some detainees, but the Australian government continued to do nothing.

"We're seeing more assaults by the guards in the detention centres but there's been no action on that. There's been no response at all on the general question of people being reunited with their families or being shifted to detention centres that are closer. And even less about the very draconian powers that the minister has to keep people in detention."

Australian Border Force denies mass hunger strike

Australian Border Force (ABF) said in a statement that there was no mass hunger strike, claiming detainees have been observed eating and drinking despite not attending regular meals.

"Anyone who is genuinely conducting a hunger strike would be supported in line with normal processes, including through medical supervision and mental health care.

"The ABF continues to work with key organisers of protest activity to discuss their concerns, but as publicly stated previously, we strongly refute claims that conditions in immigration detention facilities are inhumane or brutal."

It said detainees were welcome to return to their home countries pending their appeals.