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Australia Immigrants End Hunger Strike

The two-week hunger strike by hundreds of illegal immigrants inside the Woomera detention center in South Australia is over. The breakthrough has been achieved by independent negotiators appointed by the government. They have convinced the protesters their asylum claims will be processed in a fair and just fashion. One key demand of the detainees to be removed from Woomera to a less remote facility has not been met and the government's tough refugee policy remains in place.

After 15 days of hunger strike and self-mutilation, the protests inside the most isolated of Australia's detention center has come to an end. As many as 370 detainees took part in the protest, many of whom sewed their lips together as a symbolic gesture of hopelessness. There were also suicide attempts by teenagers.

Independent trouble-shooters brought in by the government have promised a group of mainly Afghan detainees the authorities will treat their claims for asylum in a more open manner.

One of the negotiators Paris Aristotle says the protesters are convinced they will be treated more fairly.

"What we've been able to establish with the Afghanis is enough of a relationship where that deep sense of hopelessness that they experienced and that no one was really listening to them, whether that was right or not, that's past, and at the moment they believe that they're being heard. And that's one of the most important things and I think that's contributed to achieving a resolution. They felt as though no one cared about them, no one was listening to them and that their plight would be hopeless. I don't think they believe that anymore as a result of this process," he said.

The negotiating team said the detainees were happy with the outcome. One of their key demands has, however, not been met. The protesters have consistently asked to be removed to a less remote camp to have better access to lawyers and escape the blistering desert heat.

The government has indicated Woomera may be scaled down when another center closer to the South Australian capital, Adelaide, is completed in the next six months.

Teenagers who threatened a mass suicide have also backed down, although their demands to be placed into foster care were not met. As part of the deal the government will make the processing of the claims more transparent. But it is clear its uncompromising policy on asylum has been able to weather two weeks of violent protest behind Woomera's razor-wire fences.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said that he would not be claiming victory and said he was relieved the protest was finally over.

Australia automatically detains anyone arriving in the country without the proper documentation and then claiming refugee status.

The Australian government is to consider expanding a trial program at Woomera to allow women and their children to live in a nearby township while their asylum applications are processed in a further effort to ease tension inside this facility in the heart of the barren south Australian desert.