Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said on Friday that former immigration minister John Hodges and Afghan community leader Gholam Aboss would visit Nauru to try and find a solution to the refugee crisis.

 

Reports from Nauru said the 34 Afghans and one Pakistani, whose hunger strike has entered its ninth day, are in a poor physical state.

 

Some have sewn their lips together, some are said to be delirious from dehydration and at least 18 have been taken to hospital after collapsing from lack of food and water as well as suffering from heat exhauston.

 

Australia announced the visit after the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which runs the Nauru detention centre, claimed that children had been encouraged to join the protest.

 

Pacific solution

 

Over 280 refugees, including 93 children, are detained on Nauru as part of Canberra's so-called Pacific solution.

 

Australia set up a fenced camp on Nauru, a remote island of 21sq km, in 2001, when it toughened its stance against asylum seekers arriving by boat.

 

The current group of asylum seekers have been in detention for more than two years.

 

Nearly all of them have had their claims for asylum rejected by the government's refugee tribunal.

 

"They have made one very specific demand, that is freedom or death. There is no more negotiation. The Australian government has to work hard"

Gholam Aboss
Afghan community leader

A dozen protesters, four with their lips sewn together, started the hunger strike on December 10.

 

However, immigration officials said that 35 men were refusing food and drink by Thursday December 18.

 

Several refugee groups have said, that at this rate, somebody will die soon but doctors say if those taken to hospital are treated with intravenous nutrients and vitamins as well as water, the strikers could be sustained for several weeks.

 

Afghan leader Gholam said this week that the detainees were desperate and more would join the protest. "They have made one very specific demand, that is freedom or death," he said.

 

"There is no more negotiation. The Australian government has to work hard."

 

Amnesty raps Australia

 

Meanwhile, human rights group Amnesty International called on the Australian government to close the Nauru camp because detainees were denied basic human rights and living standards.

 

"It's incongruous that in the 21st century, the Australian government is behaving in such a way as to offer no expression of concern as fellow human beings starve themselves to death as their only way of escape from the hell they are living in," Amnesty spokesman Gary Highland said in a statement.

 

Australia has one of the world's strictest immigration policies, detaining all asylum seekers, illegal workers and anyone overstaying their visas in guarded camps while their cases are handled.