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Sri Lankan asylum seekers on hunger strike

Sri Lankan asylum seekers on hunger strike

Dozens of Sri Lankan asylum seekers have gone on a hunger strike at a detention center in Malaysia, a month after authorities forced them off a leaking boat, officials said Thursday.
Sixty-one people have refused to eat since Tuesday and plan to continue their hunger strike until they are recognized as refugees and get access to international rights groups, said Nalini Elumalai, a representative of Malaysian human rights group Suaram.
Malaysian authorities detained 75 ethnic Tamils last month from a fishing trawler, which police say was supposed to smuggle them into Australia _ a popular destination for people from war-torn countries seeking better lives there. They have since been held at a detention center near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
"They have been kept there for a month. They are trapped inside not knowing what is going on," Suaram chairman K. Arumugam said.
An official with the Home Ministry, which runs the detention center, confirmed that about 50 men were refusing to eat since Tuesday. He said their conditions were stable. He declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
An official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees could not immediately comment. Malaysia does not officially recognize refugees, but recently has allowed those registered by the U.N. agency to remain free in the country until they can be resettled to a third country.
The group, including six women and eight children, had refused to get off the boat for more than two days late last month although the boat, stopped during a sea patrol, was in danger of capsizing. They were seeking assurance that they would be given asylum. It is still unclear how they got off the boat, or whether any assurances were given.
Another group of 36 Sri Lankans was also arrested the same day near a riverbank in a neighboring state. Authorities suspected they were waiting to join the bigger group. It is unclear where they are.
Malaysia has been increasingly used by people from war-torn countries, such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, as a transit point to try to sneak into Australia by boat in hope for a better life there. Several of the boats, which are often overcrowded, have sunk, leaving dozens dead.
In Sri Lanka, a 25-year civil war caused thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils to flee. But the war ended last year after the government defeated the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, and Australia recently suspended refugee applications from Afghans and Sri Lankans, citing improved security conditions there.


Updated : 2021-04-15 00:25 GMT+08:00