Updated at 6:09 p.m. ET on 2015-12-18
At least seven Bangladeshis are among more than 100 immigrants on a hunger strike in detention centers in several U.S. states after entering the country without proper documents, according to American officials on Friday.
A New York-based NGO said more than 200 immigrants from Bangladesh and other countries in South Asia – India, Pakistan and Nepal – as well as Afghanistan and Africa had gone on a hunger strike over the last two months at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities.
Many were protesting pending deportation orders or their indefinite detentions, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of DRUM, an NGO aimed at helping South Asian low-wage immigrant workers, youths, and families in New York, told BenarNews.
The seven Bangladeshis, being held at a detention center in Florida, on Friday entered at least the 13th day of their hunger strike, an ICE official said.
“As of Friday, Dec. 18, there are seven detainees who have refused to eat at the Krome detention center,” the official told BenarNews, referring to an ICE-run service processing center in Miami, where undocumented immigrants are held.
“The hunger strike started on Saturday, Dec. 5, and the original count was 13.”
Ahmed said that more than 200 asylum seekers held in ICE detention facilities in Florida, Colorado, California, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama had staged hunger strikes over the last eight weeks.
The 200-plus strikers had informed DRUM and their contacts within their respective expatriate communities in the U.S. about the strikes, Ahmed said.
The lengths of their detentions have ranged from 10 to 27 months, he said.
As of the end of Thursday, DRUM had received information that pointed to six South Asian detainees at the Krome Service Processing Center who were still refusing to eat, according to Ahmed. Most of these men were Bangladeshis, but a Pakistani might be among them, he said.
“The problem is that, at the facility, they have been blocking phone calls from going out, so we’re getting information second-hand and third-hand,” Ahmed said. The detainees in Florida may have started their hunger strike even earlier, on Dec. 2.
And, as of late Thursday, six detainees at an ICE facility in Denver were still starving themselves after having started a hunger strike on Nov. 30, Ahmed noted.
But that information contradicted a claim from the ICE official that the situation at the Krome facility “is the only location where we have a hunger strike at the moment.”
Separately, another ICE official did respond to general questions from BenarNews about hunger strikes occurring across the country in recent weeks.
“There were individuals at several ICE facilities over the last several weeks who were considered to be on hunger strikes because they had foregone food for 72 hours or refused nine meals or more,” the other ICE official told BenarNews, adding that these people were being monitored closely for their health and safety.
“Across the several facilities involved, there were more than 100 individuals considered to be on hunger strike at one time, but that number has since decreased significantly. Many of these individuals (but not all) were from Bangladesh. At this time, there are seven individuals considered to be on hunger strike at one ICE facility,” the other official added.
In Washington, ICE issued an official statement about the situation at the Florida detention centers.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care and we continue to monitor the situation,” said Jennifer D. Elzea, a spokeswoman for ICE based in Washington.
“ICE’s Krome Detention Center is staffed with medical and mental health care providers who monitor, diagnose and treat residents at the facility. ICE also uses outside, private medical/health care service providers as needed. Individuals have access to meals served three times daily at the cafeteria, snacks provided by the facility, or food purchased from the commissary,” she added.
‘Not in our hands’
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Bangladesh’s embassy in Washington said Friday that he had no fresh information about the status of the hunger strikers in Miami or elsewhere.
Shamin Ahmad, the embassy’s press attache, referred all other questions to ICE officials.
The men on the hunger strike in Florida had entered the country without proper papers, “so it’s not in our hands. … That’s not our responsibility,” Ahmad told BenarNews.
Earlier in the week, the embassy official had said in phone interviews and emails to BenarNews that at least five Bangladeshis in ICE custody were on a hunger strike at the detention center in Miami and another two were on a hunger strike in Denver.
He also confirmed earlier reports that a group of Bangladeshi asylum seekers had staged a hunger strike in October at an ICE facility in El Paso, Texas.
According to DRUM, the NGO based in Jackson Heights, N.Y., 54 detainees from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan staged a seven-day hunger strike at the El Paso detention center in October.
In the ongoing case in South Florida, according to the Associated Press, as of Monday “10 male detainees from Bangladesh at the Krome Service Processing Center have been refusing to eat since Dec. 2,” and they had refused medical staff to examine them on Dec. 12.
On Monday, a federal judge in Miami authorized ICE “to perform involuntary blood draws and other medical procedures” on the 10 men, AP reported.