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Freedom or Death: the ultimatum of the hungerstrikers on Nauru

The Nauru 2003 Human Rights Day hungerstrike

"We are human beings and we don't know what our right is. From the day we came to this world we have never seen the good days and we don't know what joy and happiness is."

"When we were in our own country we were persecuted in different ways by atrocious rulers and governments, but now when we are in the Australian-made detention centers we don't think that we have been treated better than what Taliban and other cruel Governments did to us."

Related pages

20 April 2004: Afghani Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the Republic of Indonesia - Hassan Ghulam, who went to Indonesian holding camps such as the one on Lombok, states that UNHCR needs to consider revising its approach and methods, to bring them into line with contemporary expectations and technology.

11 January 2004: Signing up for Death: the hunger strike on Nauru - The hunger strike has slowly fizzled out after more than four weeks. But if those 'unlucky ones' who are not 'selected' for re-determination stay behind on the Island, there will be another disaster in the future. Only if they receive an offer of protection status in Australia ... further disaster can be averted.

20 April 2004: The Missing refugees: did they embark from Indonesia? - Recently we received a request from friends in Indonesia, who asked our help to find out what happened to six refugees who were with them in Indonesia, but who have been missing since December 1999.

12 January 2004: Hazara Es, and stuck on Lombok - Hunger strikers and refugees stuck on Lombok are all refugees "pushed back" from Ashmore Reef by the Royal Australian NAVY in October 2001, the lead-up to the last Federal Election.

4 April 2004: Australia and "the queue", a Project SafeCom study - Because most boats attempting to reach Australia's migration zone sail from Indonesian ports, many of them embarking from an Indonesian refugee camp, Australia's failure to fully address the refugee load jointly with Indonesia and its Jakarta UNHCR office, is partly responsible for creating "the boat people problem".

18 March 2004: Force Feeding Hunger striking asylum seekers - An academic paper by Mary-Anne Kenny, Derrick Silove & Zachary Steel: Legal and ethical implications of medically enforced feeding of detained asylum seekers on hunger strike. If called upon to treat hunger strikers, [Australian] medical practitioners should be aware of their ethical and legal responsibilities, and that they should act independently of government or institutional interests.

Will you please observe through the wire
I am sewing my feet together
They have walked about as far
As they ever need to go

Will you further observe
Through the wire
I am sewing my heart together
It is now so full of
The ashes of my days
It will not hold
Any more

Through the wire
One last time
Please observe
I am sewing my lips together
That which you are denying us
We should never have
Had to ask for.

unknown detainee, as used in Citizen X

From: chaman shah
Sent: Thursday, December 11, 2003 9:37 AM
Subject: message & pictures

Dear friends,

First of all I would like to say many many thanks to all of you on the behalf of all the Refugees of Nauru Detention Center and secondly I am writing the message of the Afghan refugees for Media, Radio, TV and All the newspapers in Australia. If possible please pass it on to all Humanitarian Organizations in Australia and around the world.

It is the message of the broken hearted Afghan refugees of Nauru Detention Centre that I am passing to you. I hope you all are feeling well and paying attention on what is going on in Nauru ... where people are in deep danger of loosing their lives. The people are saying that we will not break our strike until the last drop of the blood in our body and Even if it costs our lives. I have written the purpose of the Hunger Strike of Nauru Detention Center bellow.


A Hunger strike has just started in Nauru Detention Centre by Afghan Refugees on the 10th of December 2003. The Hunger Strike started from 9:00am in the morning and it is still going on. Where 4 of the them have sewed their lips and several are sitting quite with no violence. The only slogan of the refugees is Freedom or Death...!

It is a peaceful strike against the policy of the Australian Government and the injustice Behavior of DIMIA on refugees' cases. And to inform all the Humanitarian organizations, countries and especially the people of Australia to perceive the feelings of the refugees and also to know what is going on behind the fences in Nauru.

We are also Human beings and we don't know what our right is. From the day we came to this world we have never seen the good days and we don't know what the joy and Happiness is. When we were in our own country we were persecuted in different ways by atrocious rulers and Governments but now when we are in the Australian Made detention Centers we don't think that we have been treated better than what Taliban and other Cruel Governments did with us.

What is the difference between Taliban Militias and the Government of Australia?

We all Afghan refugees escaped from our home land to seek refuge in Australia but we think there is not any difference between Taliban Militias and the Government of Australia. Taliban was persecuting and killing people without any kind of fear and the Government of Australia is pushing the people back towards Death without thinking of what will happen to them. If the Australian Government and people are thinking that we are all terrorists. I think there is no need to say that because they have tested us all in these two years where none of us has been found guilty of doing any criminal activities except asking for our rights and if they think that it is a crime then yes we are criminals and terrorist and so so....

The message of all the refugees in Nauru is "do not forget us in your happiness". And also we are so sorry if we couldn't say Merry Christmas and happy New Year to all those Austrians who are helping the refugees because we might die....

Eventually we all Afghan Refugees request you to feel the pains of the children like yours, mothers and all other detainees as a human being.

We hope you will not disappoint us. Just Good bye And God Bless You All.

Your friend

Chaman Shah Nasiri

Abdul Latif

Abdul Latif

Abdul Latif

Amin Ja Amin

Amin Jan Amin

Amin Jan Amin

Ghulam Hussain

Ghulam Hussain

Ghulam Hussain

Sayed Naimatullah

Sayed Naimatullah

Sayed Naimatullah

Visit of Former Immigration Minister, Mr. John Hodges

Transcript of talks during visit
to the Nauru Topside Detention Centre
by former Immigration Minister John Hodges
and former DIMIA interpreter Ghulam Abbos
on 22 December 2003

MR JOHN HODGES arrived here at topside camp at 3:25 in the afternoon with another man called GHULAM ABBAS as an interpreter.

The words of the Former Minister are written bellow when he spoke to the Hunger strikers in topside detention center.

MR JOHN HODGES: My name is JOHN HODGES and with me is GHULAM ABBAS and Ghulam is going to do some interpreting when you people ask any questions on me so I leave it with the Ghulam now.

GHULAM ABBAS: He translated the things that MR JOHN HODGES was saying during the meeting.

MR JOHN HODGES: We are very sad to see so many people of you here some with their lips sewn and so many of you on hunger strike.

The last thing that any body would want to see anywhere in the world is people in this situation. A few days ago the Australian Immigration Minister, Minister Amanda you are probably aware that there has been a change of Minister rang and ask if I would come with Mr. Ghulam Abbas to see you people meet you and to assess what the situation was like here and to report back to her. So this visit has nothing to do with UNHCR OR IOM.

This is a visit that has been brought about as a result of the Australian Government and the Australian Minister.

Some of you may remember that Mr. Abbas and I were here last year in March 2002, this camp at that stage was much less developed then it is now but at least the people at that time I guess had some hope and it pains us to see you people in this stage you are in.

Once we have completed this visit and we leave tomorrow afternoon we will be reporting back to the minister a number of matters and we may even be making some recommendation to her.

But you have to understand that any change of decisions is not for us to make but for Australian government and Australian Minister.

I guess two things we would like to do. And one is to see the end to this hunger strike and that is very important for your health and your well being. And the other one; I am concerned that you have been here on Nauru for about two years and it doesn't seem to be any hope for you unless you to decide to go home so the first thing that we must endure (this word might be spelled wrongly or understood wrongly but it was heard like this) to do is to get you people back to good health and get you off this hunger strike. That is the first thing that must be done.

Once that is achieved I know that you people want some permanent solution to the problem that you face. I know the back ground to your claims and the fact that you did not accept the package to return to you home country.

Mr. Abbas and I have come here to assess the situation we don't want to build you hopes but we do want to do some thing positive. And we can only do something positive by advising the Minister who we hope will find away out for you people.

We both Mr. Abbas and I know what your major concern is?

But we have a major a concern with your health at the moment. So I want to repeat to you that we would like you to cease the hunger strike that you are on, get your self to the normal health and will take certain things.

Back for further consideration by the Australian Government and the Minister.

I would like to have you asked Questions of us. But before I do, Ghulam I don't know whether you want to say something your self to these people. But certainly I'll be prepared to answer if I can any question you might like to ask.

GHULAM ABBAS: The things that I want to say to you are that, I came here last year. When I came here my visit was not hopeful for you people. It was not a hopeful visit because I didn't want to lie to you people.

I was thinking if I return back I might not be able to do something for you. Whatever was true I made it clear for you that nothing is in my hand? It is in the hands of Minister and The Australian Government.

And we can only make a report of your conditions you are in. and the tragedy which has been created now I urge as a Hazara your brother or your Muslim brother (it doesn't matter we all Shia and sonni are brothers) I honestly and faithfully write a report to make you out of this situation but I will say it again to you that it is not in our hands. It is in the hands of the Australian Government and the Minister.

Thanks for your listening.

At the end MR ARIF HALIMY said to the former Immigration Minister:

MR ARIF HALIMY: first of all I would like to welcome you for coming to topside detention center and secondly I am speaking on the behalf of my other friends who are on the hunger strike since 10th of december and the other group of people who joined later on.

I would like to say that I don't have many questions to ask you but I have one statement to pass our message to the Immigration minister and The australian government that we would like to have freedom or die. if didn't acheive the freedom then we will acheive the death. on of them will be achieved so i request to see the conditions of the people here and do something as a human being and what the Humanitarian laws are for the refuges and especially the rights of a refuge according to the convention of 1951.

and also he said the things that you are saying to us every day the doctor says the same but there is no way to stop the hunger strike unless we get our freedom.

he repeated the same point again and again, so MR JOHN HODGES replies to Him and said:

MR JOHN HODGES: I fully understand your situation and i will pass your message to the australian government and to the Minister but every thing is in their hands and they will work out what to do and how to solve the problem.the only thing and important thing that you have to do is to end this hunger strike get back to the normal health.

MR ARIF HALIMY: he replied the same words again and said No...!

then John Hodges asked from others if they have any other question but no one said any thing he left the meeting by saying these words i congratulate your representitive for managing all these for you.

When they went to meet the women in the gate house they said to them that we have heard from the newspaper and all the media and many people in Australia know what is happening here. then one of the ladies stood and said we will also join the men if their demands are not accepted then Mr John said: I don't want to see that and also i don't want men especially women and children to be involved in this i want to see the end to this hunger strike.

then another woman stood and said we want freedom or death.

this was the end.

yours sincerely,
Chaman Shah Nasiri

Letter from the hunger strikers

Central Pacific
1st January 2004

To DIMIA Officer in Nauru

Dear Sir

With the complement hope to be having healthy health.

As you know that it has been 23 days that we are on Hunger Strike and looking forward for expectation.

But still no one felt regarding us, and no one consider regarding our problem, even humanitarian organisations and UNHCR.

Meanwhile as we are despair from DIMIA authority in 23 days.

We want full attention of UNHCR regarding our problem.

So our demand is clear in the letter which we submitted to you on 10th December 2003, (FREEDOM or DEATH)

We are human. We don't suicide. But due to our problem to be solved we selected gradual death.

We are those three persons who have sewn their lips together and we understood well that we are going to be died, because we cannot walk a few metres.

Again we inform you if you don't feel our consideration about us until 10th January 2004 we will sew our eyes.

In the end we inform you that we never act any action which causes of clashes, crimes, damages and smashes.

Yours sincerely,
[names of hunger strikers]

Please send to UNHCR in Canberra
Director of IOM in Nauru, Cy Winter
Director of Nauru Police