In an act of defiance against Australia’s cruel detention regime, more than 300 detainees have initiated a hunger strike at Yongah Hill detention centre in Western Australia. 

Beginning on 14 January, the strike follows similar action in a Melbourne detention facility earlier this month. Yongah Hill holds people detained for a variety of reasons, including asylum seekers and people fighting to keep their visas after rejection on “character grounds”. Now they stand united to demand an end to ongoing inhumane treatment.

One of the 12 demands of the strike is an end to the arbitrary separation of detainees from friends and family. Detainees are often moved interstate, making it impossible to stay in close contact with family and friends. The Western Australian Refugee Rights Action Network shared the words of Lee Barber, a detainee at the facility who lamented the cruel practice, “Mate, it gets me emotional that I can't see my family”.

The strikers have also had enough of long, often indefinite waiting periods, a routine method of psychological torture in Australian detention centres. 

A video released on Facebook shows strikers stating their demands. An end to unnecessarily long waiting periods is a common theme. “This is what we all here have been fighting for”, says one. “There are people that have been in detention here for nine years, eight years, and I don’t know how long they’re going to have to stay in detention.” 

In the same video, a striker who’s been suffering from multiple health issues, including nerve damage, tells of the inadequate medical care provided by the facility, “I’m raising my voice today in regards to all of us here who are suffering. But instead of getting proper medical assistance outside, here we are suffering.”

Another of the strikers’ demands is an end to the use of mechanical restraints while transporting detainees to medical facilities, an inhumane and humiliating practice. 

Many detainees at Yongah Hill are victims of draconian immigration laws that target those who have served a prison sentence – laws that are set to be made even tougher. Liberal immigration minister David Coleman put it coldly: “It's a very simple message. If non-citizens commit crimes in Australia, they should expect to have their visas cancelled”.

But the mostly petty crimes committed by the people who now face either deportation or indefinite suffering are nothing compared to the crimes against humanity committed every day by Australian Border Force. 

Despite what they’re up against, the determination of the strikers is palpable. In the final moments of the video, one striker leads a chant, “We ask for freedom for everyone, and [to be] united with their family. What everybody ask for?” – “Freedom!”