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Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Baxter hunger strike reaches medical emergency stage - and ends for Arabs

Narrogin WA, 24 Dec 2004, 9:30am - (from today's Press Release) Reports of the sixteen hunger strikers, although the wording is minimal, indicate that the strike has reached a stage where critical organs start to be damaged beyond recovery. A supporter in Port Augusta wrote yesterday evening: "I just received a message from a hunger striker in Baxter saying that people were now very weak and some vomiting and passing blood in their urine."

Amongst the Iranian men are now those who pass blood in their urine, in addition to a general weakness - even people who had just returned from the hospital in Port Augusta had to be assisted to sit up to ingest water.

Conditions related to advanced stages of a hunger strike include "vertigo" and "dizziness" as a result of the body generally weakening, but also as a result of problems with so-called "ocular mobility" (eye movements). The fact that some of the hunger strikers now start to vomit is an indication of the strikers having reached the "advanced stage".

(For more information: below is an excerpt of a document about implications of a hunger strike for medical professionals by The World Medical Association and a link to the full document in PDF format [157 kB]. This document also outlines the International Rights of Hunger strikers, medically as well as politically and socially)

"All of the circumstances of the hunger strike at the Baxter detention centre feel like a deja-vue of the drama last year at Christmas time on Nauru".

"We have some of the same ingredients as during the hunger strike on Nauru, but this time there is more: there is detention in a maximum security facility, there is silence about and dismissal of this medical emergency by officials in DIMIA, and within the convenience of another issue - the likely pending deportation of the Bakjhtiyari family - a silence from the Minister about the fact that sixteen men who should never have been in this prison, are prepared to continue with an extremely serious hunger strike about the grave human rights breaches we inflict on these men."

"There is an almost unbelievable hypocrisy in the fact that foreign minister Alexander Downer and former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock released their UN Human Rights report yesterday and claimed that it shows Australia's forward looking commitment to the International Declaration of Human Rights. Both Alexander Downer and Philip Ruddock should consult an eye specialist, because on this Christmas Eve, they do not see the wooden beam in their own eyes, and they should take Amanda Vanstone with them." [See the AAP report here]

The phases of a hunger strike

The first week

• fasting generally well supported, as long as water intake is sufficient
• hunger pangs and stomach cramps disappear after the 2nd - 3rd day

After 15 - 18 days

• the hunger striker suffers from dizziness and "feeling faint"
• severe ataxia (inability to coordinate voluntary muscle movements)
• standing up may become difficult to impossible
• bradycardia (slowing of heartbeat)
• orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure when standing up, often with faintness, dizziness, and vision problems)
• "lightheadedness" or inversely "mental sluggishness"
• sensation of cold
• general sensation of weakness
• fits of hiccoughs
• loss of the sensation of thirst

At the end of the first month, symptoms may be severe enough to warrant hospitalisation. Hydration needs to be particularly monitored. Too much supplement of NaCl (Sodium) may lead to hypokalemia (low level of potassium in blood).

Between 35 - 42 days

• troubles of ocular mobility (eye movements) due to progressive paralysis of the oculo-motor muscles:

• ==> uncontrollable nystagmus (rapid, involuntary, oscillatory motion of the eyeball)
• ==> diplopia (double vision)
• ==> extremely unpleasant sensations of vertigo
• ==> incoercible vomiting
• ==> extremely difficult to swallow water
• ==> converging strabismus (inability to focus :: cannot attain binocular vision)

This has been described as the most unpleasant phase by those who have survived prolonged fasting, and is the phase most dreaded by potential hunger strikers.

One week after the ocular phase

• once paralysis of the oculo-motor muscles is total ==> nystagmus ceases and with it all associated problems (vertigo, vomiting...)

From ~ 42 days onward

• progressive asthenia (physical weakening)
• torpitude (exist in a sleeping state)
• increasiningly confused state
• concentration becomes difficult or impossible
• somnolent state (in sleep state)
• anosognosia (ignorance of the presence of disease, especially of paralysis)
• indifference to surroundings
• incoherence

a PDF documentDownload this document - an outline and explanation of the implications and ethics surrounding hunger strikes - from its original location at The World Medical Association website at

In the Spirit of Christmas

Media Release
on behalf of
Juliana Qian, Richmond VIC
[phone number inserted]

Juliana at Flinders Street Station om MelbourneThis Christmas, Melburnians Juliana Qian and Emily Smith will not be joining their families for the usual celebratory feasts.

Instead, they will be engaged in a 24-hour hunger strike in solidarity with the Iranian detainees at Baxter Detention Center, of whom sixteen men have been refusing food for close to three weeks now. This is only part of the ongoing crisis at Baxter, which recently has included lip-stitching and rooftop protests.

Ms Smith and Ms Qian will fast until 10pm Christmas Day, spending the last twelve hours of their hunger strike at Flinders St Station in Melbourne's CBD.

Seventeen-year-old Juliana Qian says, "I want to show my support to the detainees, and to draw attention to their situation. Many Iranians have been detained in Australia for four or five years. There is much evidence to suggest these detainees would be persecuted if deported to Iran. While I don't encourage anyone in detention to participate in self-injury, I understand this is a desperate act committed by distressed people."

"In the spirit of Christmas, in the spirit of hope and compassion, in a time reserved for joy, I ask the Australian people to remember those suffering. In particular, I ask Senator Amanda Vanstone to consider the plight of these people and review their cases."

Ms Qian, an active member of Amnesty International and an executive member of the United Nations Youth Association, compares the experience of asylum seekers in Australia to that of a famous family two thousand years ago. She says, "Mary and Joseph took refuge in Egypt when they feared for Jesus' life at the hands of Herod. They were not locked behind razor wire indefinitely."

"I wonder what would have happened to them under the current government policy of mandatory detention."

Media representatives are welcome at their location, between 10am and 10pm under the clocks at Flinders St Station. Ms Qian and Ms Smith are also available for comment via mobile phone.

For more information: Juliana Qian [phone number inserted]

photo one | photo two | photo three

'Free refugees for Xmas': Bartlett
December 24, 2004

FORMER Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett has urged the Government to free detained asylum seekers as a gesture of Christmas goodwill.

Senator Bartlett, who fasted for three days this week to draw attention to the plight of asylum seekers, said Prime Minister John Howard should act on his own Christmas message to Australian people and not forget those less fortunate.

The Prime Minister was right in saying Christmas could be a time of stress and loneliness for some people, he said.

"He can do his own bit to reduce some of that stress by freeing the innocent people he has kept locked up in detention for over five years and allowing refugees in Australia to reunite with their families," Senator Bartlett said in a statement.

"Christmas is the ideal time to acknowledge that doing what we can to end suffering is more important than being seen to be right or wrong in a policy debate."

Senator Bartlett said the Government could easily free these people tomorrow and end their suffering without admitting it was wrong or setting any legal precedent.

There had been a drop in the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia - although he disagreed with how that was achieved.

"While there will always be debate about how best to deal with asylum seekers, there can be no question that these people have suffered enough," he said.


Link to the article in The Age

Hunger strike may end tomorrow

The Herald Sun

SOME Iranian asylum seekers at the Baxter detention centre are believed to have agreed to end their hunger strike tomorrow, the Immigration Department said today.

But refugee advocates claim the protest action has reached crisis point, with some 16 detainees still refusing food at the facility in northern South Australi.

An Immigration Department spokesman said it was believed some of the hunger strikers would end their protest tomorrow.

The department welcomed the development and urged other hunger strikers to do the same, he said.

The Government did not negotiate a deal with individuals to end hunger strikes.

Advocates say that at one stage 27 Iranian detainees were involved in the protest.

Jack Smit, from Project SafeCom, said reports from inside Baxter indicated some detainees were weak, vomiting and passing blood in their urine.

Mr Smit said the Iranians, whom the Government says are not refugees, were prepared to continue the hunger strike indefinitely.

Link to the Herald Sun

Iranian-Arab Hunger strikers write to PM

The Arab-Iranian Detainees
Baxter IDF
Locked Bag
Pt Augusta SA 5700

The Hon. John Howard
Prime Minister
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2606

Cc Senator Amanda Vanstone
Minister for Immigration
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2606

Ms Kaye Kennis
Manager, DIMIA
Baxter IDF
Pt Augusta SA 5700

23 December 2004

Dear Prime Minister,

You may or may not have been informed that we, the Iranian detainees of Arab ethnicity, have suffered a hunger strike for the past 16 days. Our life is not worth living in this terrible place and we hope that you may consider our situation with compassion as we approach the Christmas season.

We have thought much about the spirit of Christmas and how families and communities come together in celebration of kindness and peace. We miss our families and our mind cannot find peace, but we do not wish to disturb the Australian people with our sorrow. We want to respect your tradition and show kindness to those who are troubled by our deteriorating health. We want to thank all those who supported and cared for us and gave us strength of mind to endure.

We also listened to their plea for us to end the hunger strike and have therefore decided to start eating again on Christmas Day as a sign of our good will and friendship.

It saddens us that you have chosen to ignore until now all the information about us Arab-Iranians which we and our friends have provided to you, your Minister and her Department. We have demonstrated that our Arab minority suffers disadvantages and persecution in Iran and that, no matter what our individual situation, we all had to flee home because we were striving for more freedom and justice for our people. We are real and genuine refugees.

It is unconscionable that we are not allowed to submit this information or that DIMIA and the Australian courts should not be permitted to consider it, contrary to other civilized countries. How can we prove our case when the authorities will not acknowledge the independent information we have provided?

The fact alone that we rather endure hardship and imprisonment for many years and that we continue to resist the offer of 'repatriation' and the threats of 'removal' shows you clearly that we simply cannot return to Iran where we would suffer torture, prison and possibly death.

In the spirit of Christmas and peace, we sincerely ask you to allow us to present our documents and cases for consideration. We do not wish to disturb your celebrations but we ask you to please help us in our hopeless situation.

With the best wishes for Christmas and the New Year,

Yours respectfully

The Arab-Iranian Detainees at Baxter

A message from Baxter

relayed by phone
24 Dec 2004, 17:30pm WST

On behalf of all people in detention, we wish to thank everyone so much for your support.

Thanks to Senator Andrew Bartlett, Corinne Grant & Arnie Zable and everyone who supported us during the hunger strike.

We will see in the New Year and ask the members of Parliament, DIMIA, Minister Amanda Vanstone and Prime Minister John Howard to directly look at our cases.

We cannot go back and we are very suffering. Our message to everyone at this time, to all the Australian people:

"Merry Christmas and Happy New Year".
Baxter Detention Centre

NOTE: this message was written for the 10 or 11 Ahwaz Arab-Iranians who had been on the hunger strike. Later reports have confirmed that another 2-5 Iranians, some of whom are in the "management unit" have not given up their action and are still on the hunger strike.

Baxter detainees end hunger strike

Saturday, December 25, 2004. 6:24pm (AEDT)

Ten detainees at the Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia have ended their hunger strike.

Some of the detainees have gone more than two weeks without food.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department says it appears the protest action has ended after the detainees said they would resume eating normally on Christmas Day.

He says the detainees were seen to be eating normally at Christmas lunch.

Spokeswoman for the group Rural Australians for Refugees, Kathy Verran, says the asylum seekers in the main compound stopped the hunger strike out of respect for Christmas.

Ms Verran says most of the hunger strikers have been in detention for years.

"And I think they see just years ahead of continuing detention and don't believe that they can return to their home countries because of fear of persecution and death," she said.

'We've had the continuing hunger strikes and unrest within detention centres for quite a long time now and I don't see that that's going to end easily."

Ms Verran says while 10 detainees stopped the hunger strike out of respect for Christmas, they have information that two more detainees are continuing.

"All of them have been in there for years they're absolutely exhausted and don't know what's going to happen to them what's going to be the outcome for them," she said.

"My concern is that we may see continuations of some of the unrest."

First Report (8/12) | Second Report (12/12) | Third Report (14/12) | Fourth Report (16/12) | Fifth Report (18/12) | Sixth Report (21/12) | Seventh Report (24/12)


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