Skip to main content /WORLD /WORLD

New suicide bids at Woomera

The government has decided to remove at least five children from Woomera  

By Grant Holloway
CNN Sydney

WOOMERA, Australia (CNN) -- Protest action at the Australian detention camp of Woomera is intensifying with three detainees attempting to hang themselves from a perimeter fence.

Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock confirmed Thursday that two adults and a 16-year-old who attempted to hang themselves have been treated at the Woomera medical facility on Wednesday night.

A fourth person was also treated at the center for an undisclosed self-harm attempt.

The detainees used bed sheets to hang themselves from the perimeter fence at Woomera but were cut down by other inmates and security staff.

Lawyer Paul Boylan, who is acting on behalf of some of the detainees, told CNN on Thursday there had been 45 cases of self harm at Woomera since the protest action began nine days ago.

About 60 hunger strikers in Woomera have sewn their lips together with cotton and more than 200 others have been refusing food and water as part of a protest action over the slow processing of protection visas and the mandatory imprisonment of illegal immigrants.

Boylan said the hunger strikers had now met with the independent Detention Advisory Commission who will put their case to the minister later Thursday.

Government response

Australia's tide of refugees Asia
More news from our
Asia edition


In anticipation of a favorable outcome, most of the hunger strikers have agreed to move out of the 40 degree Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) heat and to take water, he said.

The government is expected to announce its response to the commission's findings on Friday.

Ruddock late Wednesday agreed to remove five unaccompanied children from Woomera to protect them from adults involved in the protests.

It is believed two children have had their lips sewn together -- possibly against their will -- while as many as 36 other juveniles may be refusing to eat or drink.

Ruddock said investigations were under way into whether another seven children at Woomera were at risk from adult detainees.

Other reports say it is possible that up to 26 unaccompanied children may be removed from Woomera by Thursday evening.

Criminal charges

An excerpt from a hunger striker's letter obtained by CNN  

The five children to be definitely removed are aged 14 and under and are in Woomera without their parents.

They will be placed in foster and emergency care in the South Australian state capital of Adelaide, which, although 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Woomera, is the nearest major center.

The South Australian state government will consider bringing criminal charges of child abuse against adults in Woomera if its investigation into the matter provides sufficient grounds to do so.

Meanwhile, asylum seekers in a second Australian detention center have joined hunger strike actions in sympathy with the Woomera detainees.

The Woomera hunger strikers have now been joined by at least 35 detainees at the Maribyrnong Detention Center, in the Victoria state capital Melbourne, according to a refugee spokesperson on Wednesday.

Plea for help

Letters by the hunger strikers, which have been smuggled out of Woomera and obtained by CNN, say their protest action is about "freedom and basic human rights".

"We are requesting that the international community intervene and remove us from Australia's barbaric immigration policy which locks refugees, men, women and children behind razor wires for months, and even years, at a time," one of the letters says.

Many of the 800-plus Woomera detainees have been imprisoned for more than a year in the desert facility and no current inmates have been there for less than five months.

Australia has one of the world's toughest regimes for dealing with asylum seekers, automatically detaining people arriving illegally in secure camps while their status is assessed.

Currently there are about 2,000 illegal immigrants detained in Australian mainland camps, while about 1,000 more are held in Australian-run camps on the tiny Pacific island of Nauru and on a Papua New Guinean island.




Back to the top