ALMOST half the asylum seekers on Nauru have begun a hunger strike.
The Department of Immigration said 170 people began their protest on Thursday. The asylum seekers are adamant their hunger strike will go on indefinitely, although the department cast doubt on whether they were refusing to eat.
''There are about 170 asylum seekers in the regional processing centre who are engaged in a peaceful protest,'' a department spokeswoman said. ''They have also indicated they have stopped eating meals. It is important to note just because people have said they are not eating meals does not mean they have engaged in voluntary starvation.''
Fairfax has been unable to reach asylum seekers on Nauru. But refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said he had been contacted by asylum seekers on the island who told him they planned to take part in the hunger strike for an ''unknown time''.
''This is a clear message that we are not happy here, we want to go back from this hell to Australia and we request to the Australia government to start our processing,'' the group wrote in a joint statement released to Mr Rintoul.
The department spokeswoman said authorities made food and water available to detainees at all times, and service workers were monitoring the situation.
Mr Rintoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, said: ''Asylum seekers have been left with no idea when their claims will be processed and what will be their ultimate fate. They have no choice but to protest.''