18 May 2006

UN intervenes in Dublin protest

:::u.tv:::

THURSDAY 18/05/2006 08:40:28

**See also Dozens dead in Afghan violence

The United Nations has intervened in a hunger strike by more than 40 Afghan asylum-seekers who have occupied a church in Dublin since the weekend.

Last night, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began negotiating with representatives of the men who are into the fourth day of their protest at St Patrick`s Cathedral.

The asylum-seekers, who include six teenagers, claim they will be tortured if returned to Afghanistan because of their links to the deposed Taliban regime.

The 13th-century landmark building, which is the largest church in Ireland, remains closed to worshippers and tourists.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins, who visited the men this afternoon, said: "I am very worried for their welfare at this stage because they obviously are very desperate."

Representatives of the Irish Justice Department met some of the men yesterday but their asylum status was not discussed.

Some of the asylum-seekers later ended their thirst strike and began to take water.

A number of the men were taken to hospital for dehydration treatment over the last two days.

Irish Premier Bertie Ahern told the Dail that the Government had a very fair asylum system and he would not respond to threats by any one of the 100 nationalities that use the process.

Labour Party TD Joe Costello also raised the issue in the Dail and called on the Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell to take urgent measures to resolve the hunger strike.

"The situation is totally unsatisfactory and worsening by the hour," said Mr Costello.

"The minister should seize the opportunity offered by the UNHCR immediately and initiate communication with the hunger strikers in St Patrick`s Cathedral with a view to finding a solution to their grievances and resolving the hunger strike."

Thirty-three men occupied St Patrick`s Cathedral on Sunday afternoon and were joined by eight others on Monday.

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