Asylum seekers from Afghanistan are mounting a determined hunger strike in Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in a campaign for refugee status.
After the men escalated their protest into a hunger and thirst strike, seven men had to be admitted to hospital and two remain in a critical condition.
Most of the 41 refugees, who are on the fourth day of their protest, have now begun taking water after contacts were made with 26-County Justice Department officials.
The men, who are aged between 16 and 45, have been living in different parts of Ireland for between one and five years. All are seeking leave to remain in Ireland, and claim their action was precipitated by several of their applications for refugee status being turned down recently by the Office of the Refugee Appeals Commissioner.
The men took up positions in the transept of the Cathedral at the weekend. The building, which is usually open to the public on Sunday, was closed for most of the day.
One of the hunger strikers, Sultan Kabirchakari, a blind man who has been living in Cork for several years, said the men wanted to draw attention to “the injustice of the Department of Justice”.
“We haven’t got our rights. Our cases didn’t get full attention, and the current situation in Afghanistan is well known. We have been suffering these problems for the past three years,” he said. “We are committed to stay here to die [ unless] we are allowed to stay.”
Mr Kabirchakari said “human compassion” should prevent their deportation to Afghanistan, which they fled due to war and civil strife.
“It is not our intention to hurt anybody. We are just peace-loving people, and we have great respect for holy places.”
Another of the hunger strikers, Osman Hotak, referred to the Government’s campaign on behalf of Irish citizens living illegally in the US.
“We want people to know that we are in worse circumstances than them. We have been mental prisoners for years... All of us will die unless we are allowed to stay. We are willing to end our life.”
Yesterday Minister for Justice Michael McDowell said that anybody involved in the immigration or asylum-seeking process could discuss their case with officials in the department on an individual basis. “I’ve also indicated that I am not in the position of dealing with people by group or making decisions by group. I welcome the fact that the so-called hunger strike has been amended and people are taking water,” he said.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern insisted that he could not give in to demands from individual nationalities, regardless of the dangers faced in those countries.
“There are 100 different nationalities in the asylum process at present and to concede to any demands from the protesters would have major negative consequences for the asylum system that we built up in the last decade.”
He said concessions would lead to similar protests and a major inflow of additional applicants hoping to benefit from similar actions.
Last night, Residents Against Racism spokeswoman Rosanna Flynn called on the Taoiseach to intervene in the hunger strike. She said: “These asylum seekers have endured torture in Afghanistan and fled to Ireland seeking safety. Instead they have received, according to one of the hunger strikers, psychological and mental torture.”
Green Party Justice Spokesperson Ciaran Cuffe said the Minister should meet with the men. “These men are desperate. They have fled a war-torn country and are concerned that their lives will be in danger if they return. Minister McDowell should at least meet with the group and listen to their concerns.”
Sinn Féin Dublin City Councillor, Daithi Doolan, who met with the men, said he was “in no doubt” as to their determination to continue with the protest.
“At the core of this protest is the unacceptable and draconian manner in which asylum applications are processed in this state and the shameful failure of the state to introduce complementary protections for those individuals who fall outside the narrow Convention criteria for refugee status.”