23 Dec 2003

Nauru hunger strike reported to be spreading

4:58 pm on 23 December 2003

A hunger strike by Afghan asylum seekers in Nauru is reported to have spread.

Refugee advocates in Australia say about 40 people have joined the protest which began nearly two weeks ago by asylum seekers opposed to being kept on the island for more than two years.

18 of the protestors are reported to be in hospital care.

A two-member Australian delegation sent by Canberra is due to return from Nauru where they met the asylum seekers whom the Australian government wants to return home after rejecting their refugee application.

The delegation will report to the immigration minister next month.

A refugee advocate, Kate Durham, is quoted by the news agency, AAP, as saying the hunger strikers are too weak to properly communicate with the two delegates.

Ms Durham says the hunger strikers are in pain but cannot be given pain-killers because their internal organs are failing.

The Australian government has said it will not be blackmailed.

Last week, the Australian prime minister ordered an inquiry into claims that children at the detention facilities on Nauru have been encouraged to join hunger strikes.

The outcome of the investigation is not known.