Asylum Seekers and Migrants on Hunger Strike

Blog post by NCADC volunteer, Sarah McCarthy: For centuries, hunger strikes have been a powerful form of protest, usually used as a last resort by the most desperate. Currently, over 100 of the remaining 166 prisoners at Guantånamo Bay are engaged in a hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention and inhumane treatment. Across the globe, there are many people taking the same action, including asylum seekers and migrants in several countries. These are just some of the stories so far in 2013.

We are  not in search of death. We are looking for real life: Hungers strikers’ declaration, Tiananmen Square 1989


Hunger strikes are regularly held by people in UK detention centres and those facing imminent removal. Most recently, on April 24th Raul Allywas forcibly removed to Tanzania after 14 days on hunger strike.

Three men who held a 37-day hunger strike in Croyden in 2011. They were subsequently granted refugee status.Three Iranian men who held a 37-day hunger strike in Croydon, UK, in 2011. They were subsequently granted refugee status.

The Netherlands

schipol hunger strikeProtest outside Schipol detention centre

On the 6th of May the Amsterdam Heraldreported that at least 19 asylum seekers being held in a detention centre at Schiphol airport, near Amsterdam, have been on hunger strike for nearly a week.

Solidarity protests have been organised by the No Border Network in Netherlands.

The protest began on Queen’s Day, April 30, when six detainees began refusing food, and grew the following day as another 13 joined them. A spokesman for the justice ministry would not go into the reasons for the action, but refugee organisations said they were protesting against the conditions under which they were being held.

No Border Network said the protest had been timed to coincide with the May 5 events, when the Netherlands celebrates its liberation from German occupation in 1945.

In a statement, it said: “While [prime minister] Rutte was marking the hour of liberation on May 5, the very desire that Rutte’s government and all governments constantly ignore was burning in the hearts of the detained refugees: the desire for freedom.”

The organisation claimed that between 20 and 26 people had joined the hunger strike at the recently opened detention centre in Schiphol-West. It would not confirm reports that women and children were among the protesters.

No Border Network argues that refugees should not be held in cells when they have committed no crime and are campaigning for “border prisons” to be abolished.”

Up to date reports can be found at No Borders Netherlands

Subsequently, Dutch News reported that a group of 60 asylum seekers in a detention centre in Rotterdam also began a hunger strike on Monday May 6th.

 It follows a similar action by 19 asylum seekers at the Schiphol airport detention centre in Amsterdam.

The Rotterdam group consists mainly of people refused entry at the border and people awaiting deportation because their claims for asylum have been rejected. A lawyer for the group told the AD the situation in the detention centre is inhumane, partly because the detainees are rarely allowed outside their cells.”


On April 27th, pictures were uploaded to Demotix of Afghan asylum seekers, eight of whom are on hunger strike in Boden, Sweden.

The men, who have reportedly been in Sweden for several years, are huddled in blankets outside the Migration Board offices in Boden in temperatures just above freezing.

They are protesting against a deportation order and want the Migration Board to allow them and their families to stay in Sweden.

They are refusing food and water and have taped their mouths to make it clear that they will not end their hunger strike until their demands are met. During Monday afternoon habibullah Hamidi and Hasham Rahimi and Hussein Ataie lost consciousness and were transported to hospital.”

It was most recently reported on May 2nd in the Local that the Swedish Migration Board has decided not to re-open the asylum application cases of the eight hunger-striking Afghan men.


Conditions for all immigrants in Greece are notoriously bad, with each year of austerity exacerbating the situation. Hunger strikes have been used many times as asylum seekers and other migrants fight for their basic human rights. Most recently, it has been reported that more than 2,000 immigrants held in reception centres throughout Greece began a hunger strike on April 6th to denounce the intolerable conditions.

According to the Greek Reporter,

Activists from the United Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat (KEERFA) said at a press conference on April 8, “The culmination of the poor detention conditions, the mistreatment and tortures migrants have to deal with in reception centers was the three suicide attempts which happened in Amygdaleza center in northern Athens last weekend”.

KEERFA coordinator, Petros Constantinou, talked about the inhuman conditions in reception centres, adding that hunger strikes have spread across Greece, while many police departments have turned into places of abuse for immigrants and refugees.”


A hunger strike by Tamil refugees being held indefinitely in Melbourne ended on April 18th.

On April 14th The Age Victoria reported:

A group of hunger strikers protesting against their indefinite detention in Melbourne’s north have marked Tamil New Year by drinking a mouthful of water.

The 27 hunger strikers at the MITA detention centre in Broadmeadows have entered their seventh day of refusing to eat until the federal government addresses the situation that has left them in limbo for more than three years.

The 25 Tamils and two Burmese Rohingyas have been granted refugee status but had their release into the community refused due to adverse ASIO assessments.

The men are refusing to go inside and have remained in the grounds day and night.

Image of the protests in Melbourne.Image of the protests in Melbourne.

Speaking through the Tamil Refugee Council, one of the hunger strikers said they have become very tired and weak but were buoyed by national and international support for their cause.

I can see many of my friends getting weaker but all of us are together as one and determined to go on until the Government does something about our situation. We are here until there is a resolution one way or the other.”

The men are among 55 recognised refugees refused visas after security agency ASIO branded them a threat.

Most of the strikers have been in detention for more than three years without being told the details of allegations against them and with no right of appeal.

In November the government appointed retired Federal Court judge Margaret Stone to review the findings, though ASIO has veto rights over her decision.

Tamil Refugee Council spokesman Aran Mylvaganam said the situation marks a shameful episode in Australia’s history.

“This is Australia’s Guantanamo Bay. How can such a thing be happening here?”

Paramedics were called to the detention centre on Wednesday and blankets were strung over fences to prevent the men being seen from the outside.

Mr Mylvaganam said prison operator Serco has tightened security around the hunger strikers, insisting that a refugee advocate who visited them on Saturday be accompanied by a prison guard and a Tamil interpreter.

Supporters continue to maintain a 24-hour vigil outside the detention centre.”

GuantĂĄnamo Bay and Palestine

We can’t discuss hunger strikes without mentioning the high-profile cases of those being held in Guantánamo Bay and Israeli prisons

hunger strike PalestineAt the notorious American prison camp in Cuba, over 100 of the remaining 166 prisoners are currently on hunger strike. Eighty-six of these men have already been cleared for release. On May 4th the Guardian published an open letterfrom former inmates of the military facility. Since the opening of the prison camp, numerous prisoners held at Guantánamo have sporadically taken part in hunger strikes to protest their arbitrary imprisonment, treatment and conditions. This, however, is the first time the overwhelming majority of the prisoners are taking part – and for such an extended period.

In the occupied territories of Palestine, there have been countless hunger strikes held by those being illegally and indefinitely detained. Under what Israel calls “administrative detention” suspects can be imprisoned without trial by order of a military court. Such orders can be renewed indefinitely for six months at a time.

On May 2nd it was reported that an Israeli military appeals court ordered the release of two Palestinian prisoners held without trial since November, who had staged a three-month hunger strike.

From GuantĂĄnamo to Occupied Palestine to European detention centres, prisoners and migrants denied papers are increasingly resorting to the most desperate of all protests, the hunger strike.

13 May 2013