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Refugees End Hunger Strike at Outback Center

January 30, 2002|From Times Wire Services

WOOMERA, Australia — A two-week hunger strike by mainly Afghan asylum seekers at a detention center in the Australian desert ended today after government negotiators struck a deal with protesters, officials said.

"We've had a real breakthrough," said Ray Funnell, a member of a government-appointed committee that met the protesters today. "The Afghanis are no longer on hunger strike."

About 175 Afghan and Middle Eastern detainees at Woomera had not eaten for nearly two weeks. They had grown increasingly weak as dehydration and temperatures as high as 104 degrees took their toll.

Some detainees had also tried to hang themselves, had drunk disinfectant or had sewn up their lips to protest the length of time it takes--months, and sometimes years--to process asylum claims.

They also demanded to be moved to a less isolated detention center than Woomera.

A suicide threat by 11 Afghan teenagers at the camp also appeared to be fading after they extended a 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline for a week, signaling an end to two weeks of pressure on the government over its hard stance against illegal immigrants.

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