Around 300 detainees at the Yongah Hill Immigration detention centre in Western Australia will enter the third day of a hunger strike today.
Detainees interviewed by Crikey last night said they met with managers from Australian Border Force and Serco yesterday to talk through the issues that have led to the strike.
Tensions in the Melbourne and Perth centres have been high since last week when guards were filmed forcibly removing an asylum seeker from the canteen area after he reportedly asked for some sauce with his food.
One of the requests from detainees is that they not be shifted to detention centres far from their families in other Australian cities. The two men who spoke to Crikey from Perth are both asylum seekers with family in Melbourne and Sydney. They say this it is impossible to keep families intact financially and emotionally while they are trying to also seek legal recourse.
One of the other requests was that detainees not be physically restrained with hand or ankle cuffs while they are taken for medical appointments.
Crikey submitted two questions to Australian Border Force this morning asking why detainees with no history of problematic or threatening behaviour need to be restrained when taken to medical appointments and why detainees are moved to centres far from their families and support systems.
A statement from Australian Border Force to Crikey said “the use of force, including the use of restraints in detention on any individual is considered on a case by case basis and is proportionate, legal and reportable.”
It also said that “placement decisions are part of a process of assessing and minimising risk to other detainees, service providers, visitors and staff. Detainee needs are considered in line with the department’s duty of care to all detainees.”
ABF spokespersons contend that the men are eating in other places within the detention centre. Crikey understands there is limited access to snack food that detainees can purchase if they have accrued points from attending activities but that the nutrition value of what is available is questionable.
Detainees said that the staff from ABF and Serco at yesterday’s meeting said it was unlikely conditions would change. An ABF manager told detainees they would try to “escalate the matter up to Canberra”.
The men interviewed said, “why are we being kept here like this in indefinite detention like we are terrorists at Guantanamo Bay? What kind of country is this? It’s worse than a prison and many of us have not committed any crime.”
“Every politician here passes the buck, you ask Dutton and he says ask Scott Morrison, ask Morrison and he blames Rudd. No one is trying to fix this and we are stuck here in limbo.”
Many asylum seekers have been in these centres for well over two years. Crikey has interviewed people who have been in detention for over five years and is aware of a young man with no criminal history who will turn thirty two this year after being in detention for ten years.