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Detained asylum seekers go on hunger strike at Schiphol airport

At least 19 asylum seekers being held in a detention centre at Schiphol airport have been on hunger strike for nearly a week.

The government plans to make it a criminal offence to live in the Netherlands without papers.The protest began on Queen’s Day, April 30, when six detainees began refusing food, and grew the following day as another 13 joined them.

A spokesman for the justice ministry would not go into the reasons for the action, but refugee organisations said they were protesting against the conditions under which they were being held.

No Border Network said the protest had been timed to coincide with the May 5 events, when the Netherlands celebrates its liberation from German occupation in 1945.

In a statement, it said: “While [prime minister] Rutte was marking the hour of liberation on May 5, the very desire that Rutte’s government and all governments constantly ignore was burning in the hearts of the detained refugees: the desire for freedom.”

The organisation claimed that between 20 and 26 people had joined the hunger strike at the recently opened detention centre in Schiphol-West. It would not confirm reports that women and children were among the protesters.

No Border Network argues that refugees should not be held in cells when they have committed no crime and are campaigning for “border prisons” to be abolished.

The Dutch government says refugees are detained as a last resort and only once their opportunities to appeal against deportation have been exhausted.

The current government is proposing to tighten the law still further by making it a criminal offence to live in the country without authorisation.

The move has been criticised by Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) activists, whose party is in government, but the leadership has insisted it is part of the coalition deal agreed with the right-wing Liberals (VVD) and cannot be revoked.