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Red Cross visits Nauru strikers

Date

Bianca Hall

THE Red Cross has quietly visited the troubled camp on Nauru, as concerns about the hunger strikes on the island escalate.

A small team travelled to the tiny island, where many of the 377 asylum seekers remain committed to a week-long hunger strike, to assess the need for Red Cross humanitarian observation.

Red Cross acting chief executive Michael Raper said the agency would also investigate restoring family links services for asylum seekers who have been moved to Nauru.

"This is an initial observation visit only; no ongoing role has at this time been determined or negotiated by Australian Red Cross," he said.

As Fairfax reported on Tuesday, the government's human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs has said the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Nauru is "an egregious breach of international human rights law".

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Professor Triggs' comments had "shown just how unacceptable the situation there is" and she would also apply for permission to visit the camp. "It is essential that the conditions there be understood for what they are."

As the hunger strike entered its seventh day, reports from the island suggested 50 people had begun to refuse water. "They feel they have nothing to lose," Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said.

"Over 6000 asylum seekers have arrived in Australia since August 13.

"Dumping 377 asylum seekers on Nauru has done nothing but put their mental and physical health at risk."

In Bali, Prime Minister Julia Gillard defended the government's asylum policies.

"Our intention is to fully implement the recommendations of the Angus Houston review . . . so if you get on a boat you don't get a resettlement option any more quickly than if you had stayed put," she said.

Overnight Tuesday a boat carrying 81 people was intercepted near Ashmore Islands, while another carrying 36 people arrived on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army hit back at reports that its staff were being pulled out of Nauru over concerns for their safety. The organisation's head of Nauru operations, Paul Moulds, said his group had been "totally misrepresented" by reports in the News Ltd press and re-reported elsewhere on Wednesday.

The reports claimed communal areas had been closed and staff were being "ordered out" of the camp due to concerns for safety amid protests.

But Major Moulds said: "Our resolve in this area, to be with the asylum seekers in this environment, is strengthened if anything, not lessened, since we've been working here."

He said the regular protests at the camp were peaceful.

"Since day one there's been an operational procedure, not put in by us, that if there's a protest we leave the site and let others deal with that, because we're social workers and youth workers and care workers," he said.

"And we're currently working on that, to maybe possibly have that re-looked at."

With LINDSAY MURDOCH

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