Nauru: hunger strike symptomatic of refugee despair

Briefing Notes, 19 December 2003

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 19 December 2003, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is concerned about the situation of hundreds of people mostly Afghans and Iraqis and including more than 90 children who continue to be detained on the isolated Pacific Island of Nauru, some of them for more than two years.

While UNHCR supports the concept that asylum-seekers who do not qualify for refugee status should be returned as soon as possible to their country of origin, there are exceptions to this approach essentially when the return of failed asylum-seekers is deemed to be inappropriate given the prevailing security conditions in their areas of return, or in the country in general. Until such time as conditions improve in the areas of origin of these persons, UNHCR appeals to all concerned authorities to treat them with humanity and redouble efforts to find a dignified and proper solution which does not involve continued, prolonged detention in harsh conditions, including of children.

We are aware that the hunger strike presently carried out by some of the detainees on Nauru has generated a situation that renders the offering of solutions more difficult, and would require a cautious handling. The strike is, however, symptomatic of a general degree of despair that must be addressed with a view to responding humanely to what is becoming a human tragedy.