Australia must tackle refugee crisis in Nauru
On 19 July 2013, Australia enacted a policy that meant anyone who arrived by boat anywhere in Australia – including the mainland – would be barred from seeking asylum in the country. Instead, they would be forcibly transferred to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, and even those recognised as refugees would never be allowed to settle in Australia.
More than 1600 people remain on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea and Nauru, with the majority being assessed as refugees. Under a bilateral agreement, whereby the US government agreed to settle up to 1,250 refugees, nearly 400 refugees have been sent to the US so far. However, hundreds of people are likely to remain on Manus Island and Nauru in abysmal conditions indefinitely, with no clear plans for their future.
In Papua New Guinea, refugees and people seeking asylum have been violently attacked by locals, contractors and the authorities. In Nauru, there have been widespread reports of physical and sexual abuse, including against women and children. Nauru and Papua New Guinea are unable to provide protection for refugees and people seeking asylum and the Australian government refuses to accept responsibility for them, despite the fact that they remain under its effective control in these territories.
Medical sources on Nauru say at least 20 children are in the Australian-run regional processing centre 1 (RPC1) on “food and fluid refusal” and at risk of permanent harm or death. At least a dozen children, staff say, need evacuation urgently. Other refugee children who remain in the community are also refusing to eat and drink, but are not receiving intensive medical care “because RPC1 is full of dangerously sick kids”, a Nauru source said.
The crisis of mental illness amongst children on Nauru is real. Children are repeatedly attempting suicide by lethal means. There has been a disturbing rise in cases of traumatic withdrawal syndrome also known as resignation syndrome. These conditions are increasing as a direct result of prolonged detention, limited access to child and adolescent mental healthcare, and severe stress in families. Children are at the end of their capacity to withstand the trauma of this situation.
84 nongovernment organisations from across the Pacific, led by Amnesty International, have signed an open letter calling on the Pacific Islands Forum to put Australia’s offshore processing regime at the top of the meeting’s agenda. The Pacific Islands Forum – which this year comes in Nauru’s 50th year of independence – is a meeting of 18 national leaders from across the Pacific.
Amnesty international stated that the four-day meeting, failed to address the needs of refugees, with the approved draft Forum Communiqué featuring no mention of an improved, human rights-oriented approach to refugee policy.
“The dire situation for refugees and asylum-seekers in Nauru requires urgent action and the Australian government can still uphold its responsibility by evacuating them to Australia,” said Roshika Deo, Amnesty International’s Pacific Researcher. “However, if Australia refuses to change course, it must not stand in the way of others who are willing to offer these people the protection they so desperately need. New Zealand’s Prime Minister this week reaffirmed a longstanding offer to take in 150 refugees per year from Manus Island and Nauru - Australia must facilitate, and not obstruct this process.”
Amnesty International is also dismayed that Pacific Leaders failed to address Australia’s cruel and abusive refugee policy at the forum meeting. “The Pacific Islands Forum was an opportunity for leaders in the region to say enough is enough and show that they would no longer stand by while the Australian Government’s abusive policies continue to risk more lives,” said Roshika Deo.