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Rush to process asylum seekers

Tuesday 6 October 2015 | Published in Regional


Nauru to process all asylum seekers in offshore detention centre ‘within the week’

YAREN – Nauru’s government has promised to process all asylum seekers in its offshore detention centre still awaiting an outcome on their application for refugee status “within the next week”.

The decision comes just days before a legal challenge examining the Australian government’s role in the centre’s operation.

The timing has been greeted with scepticism as it comes just two days before Australia’s High Court assesses the lawfulness of detaining people overseas.

But the Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Nauru has been planning the changes for some time.

But the Human Rights Law Centre’s director of legal advocacy Daniel Webb told the ABC that the announcements were “quite clearly connected”.

“These announcements come three years after the first person was locked up on Nauru, but less than two days before the highest court in the country is due to assess the lawfulness of that detention,” he said.

Webb said that the hearings would still take place, and would question the legality of the Australian government to be “underwriting and actively participating in the detention of people in other countries”.

Webb said even if detainees are designated as refugees and in need of protection, they still won’t be allowed to move off the island.

He said it is not realistic to expect vulnerable, traumatised people to be able to rebuild their lives on a tiny, isolated island.

He says the Australian government must re-settle them elsewhere.

The Nauruan government said they will more than double the number of staff involved in dealing with refugee claims to 320, to deal with the week-long timeframe.

Community liaison officers, including 30 people who have already been granted refugee status, will process the asylum seekers.

Nauru has also announced the centre will become an “open” facility 24 hours a day from today.

It means detainees will be free to move around the island.

Nauru’s justice minister David Adeang said the Australian government would provide support with “safety, security and law enforcement”.

This will include increased assistance from Australian police, as well as increased health care and overseas medical referrals.

Adeang said his government had been working towards a “more compassionate program” for a long time and had been waiting on confirmation of assistance from the Australian government.

“The start of detention-free processing is a landmark day for Nauru,” he said.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has welcomed the announcement, but is yet to provide detail on Australia’s involvement.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she questioned the capability of the Nauruan government to process the hundreds of claims within the short timeframe.

Senator Hanson-Young urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to bring the asylum seekers to Australia, and said he should “stop spending Australian taxpayers’ money on this hellhole”.

“We know there is no long-term solution for people to stay in Nauru,” she said.

“There is no life for families to be kept, in limbo, on Nauru island.”

The Republic of Nauru is virtually a failed state and the government only survives with the benefit of Australian financial and other assistance.

Hanson-Young also cited concerns for the safety of women on the island, referring to a recent ABC report detailing abuse suffered by one woman.

“It’s not safe in the camp for these women, and it’s not safe outside the camp,” she said.

“I’m not convinced that sending a few more Australian police officers to Nauru is going to change the fundamental issues of security for that island and for those families.”

Save the Children has urged the Australian Government to identify sustainable third country resettlement options for refugees whose claims are successfully processed.

A statement issued by the aid agency, which has provided services at the centre since 2013, said that countries needed to have a proven track record in providing adequate services for refugees.

“Now, more than ever, a permanent and sustainable solution is needed to provide clarity and a sense of hope for the future for those on Nauru,” Save the Children acting chief executive Mat Tinkler said.

Australia reopened the camp on Nauru in 2012 to deal with the influx of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by boat, and in response to reports of hundreds of deaths at sea.

The announcements come little more than three years after the first asylum seekers – 30 Sri Lankan men – were transferred to Nauru after the centre was reopened by the Gillard government.

The Rudd government had previously dismantled the Pacific Solution in 2008, seven years after the concept was introduced by former prime minister John Howard.