25 Oct 2013

Refugees still being held in Nauru processing centre

5:42 pm on 25 October 2013

Amnesty International Australia says asylum seekers who were recognised as refugees at the Nauru processing centre months ago are still being detained there.

Amnesty's refugee spokesperson, Graeme McGregor, says the reason why they have not been released is uncertain.

But he says the Australian government has always said asylum seekers will only be detained while they were being processed for refugee status.

He told Mary Baines that Nauru never agreed to re-settle the refugees, and Australia's policies do not allow them to be settled there - so they refugees have been left in limbo.

GRAEME MCGREGOR: There's not really been any clear reason given. And there's a lot of speculation around why that might be. For example, it may possibly be that the Nauruans are uncomfortable with releasing the recognised refugees into the Nauruan community. It's a very small island, it's a very small community, and you're talking about a fairly significant number of people - comparative for Nauru - being released into the community there. And following the recent riot there's a possibility there's a certain distrust or discomfort around the release of the refugees. The other issue is that Nauru, in fact, never said it would resettle refugees that it processed on the island. Unfortunately, Australia's current policy means those refugees can't be resettled in Australia. So really those refugees are being left in a kind of limbo where they can't live in Nauru and they can't be resettled in Australia.

MARY BAINES: How many people are we talking here?

GM: Again, that's quite uncertain. There were a lot of complications around the case because of the riots, because of the number of asylum seekers who were arrested following those riots, but then subsequently released. The total population of the refugee processing centre on Nauru at the moment is believed to be somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people. And of that I'd say around 400 are the single adult males in the camp, many of whom have been there for some time now.

MB: So what's the Australian government's obligation here? Should they be stepping in and doing something about this?

GM: Our position on this is that the Australian government never should have recommenced offshore processing, that this is exactly the kinds of problems that offshore processing leads to. It leads to a lack of clarity, a lack of information and transparency around the issue, and it leads to these kinds of very difficult logistical problems. There could be an inevitable outcome of offloading our asylum seeker responsibilities on small Pacific islands who don't have the infrastructure or the legal capabilities to deal with this kind of issue.

MB: And it kind of undermines the whole process of people being processed if, in fact, they're going to stay in the same place.

GM: Absolutely. The Australian government throughout this process, whether it's the current coalition government or the previous labour government, has always tried to maintain that the detention of asylum seekers is only being carried out while they're being processed and while that assessment of their refugee status is being carried out. And, really, issues like this just demonstrate that that's simply not the case, that these people are being detained for no good reason at all, arbitrarily. So we're calling on the government ultimately to end offshore processing, but in the interim to ensure that those people recognised as refugees by the processing in Nauru and on Manus Island and Papua New Guinea are promptly resettled either in Australia or elsewhere.

The Amnesty International Australia refugee spokesperson, Graeme McGregor, speaking to Mary Baines.