1 Mar 2024

Concerns about treatment of asylum seekers sent to Nauru

5:13 pm on 1 March 2024
240414. Photo RNZ. Aerial view of Nauru. Asylum seeker camp, Yaren,

240414. Photo RNZ. Aerial view of Nauru. Photo: RNZ

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) has raised concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers that have been sent to an Australian-operated detention centre on Nauru.

Thirty-nine people have left Western Australia - where they had been looked after by an indigenous community -to be processed for offshore detention.

Last week, the ASRC said its was "deeply concerned" following years of reported human rights abuses of refugees held on Nauru, including violent assaults, rape, child abuse, and medical neglect.

"Given the known deterioration of people's mental and physical health every day they are held offshore, the ASRC is calling on the [Australian] government to be immediately forthcoming about people's welfare and the consideration of their protection claims."

The centre's spokesperson Jana Favero said the Anthony Albanese government's move was "shrouded in secrecy".

"While there has been a lack of visibility, billions of dollars have been wasted, people have lost their lives, there have been compensation payouts and taxpayers money has gone to shonky operators," Favero said.

"It appears this secrecy is set to continue with no public information about the fate of 39 people transferred to Nauru in the past week, let alone with the 15 who have been there for months.

"Nothing good comes from secrecy and this Government has the opportunity to end the shameful legacy of corruption and cruelty that has seen thousands of men, women and children suffer on Nauru."

A former refugee and human rights activist Betelhem Tibebu said his heart broke when he saw the recent asylum seekers arriving in Nauru.

"I was so scared when I first arrived in Nauru," he said.

"I felt lost and like I'd be sent to prison, even though I never committed any crime."

Prime Minister Albanese said the arrival of a boat carrying several asylum seekers to Western Australia's far north coast is "unfortunate" but not a failure of Operation Sovereign Borders.

"Are these people on temporary protection visas? No, they are on Nauru," Albanese said, when the federal opposition went on the offensive over the arrival of the 39 men.

"People who arrive by boat get sent offshore; that is the measure we have in place."

Ian Rintoul from Refugee Action Coalition said refugees who arrived in Australia by plane could apply for protection and live in the community while their claims were assessed, and the same should apply to those who arrived by boat.

Australia's Migration Act defines a refugee as a person in Australia who is outside their country of nationality or former habitual residence (their home country); and owing to a "well-founded fear of persecution", is unable or unwilling to return to their home country or to seek the protection of that country.

The Department of Home Affairs said even if a person has suffered persecution in the past, they are not a refugee by the meaning in the Act, unless they have a well-founded fear of persecution and there is a real chance they will be persecuted in their home country now, if they were to return.

However, past events could establish a real chance of persecution if the person were to return.

Nauru responsible - home affairs

An Australian Home Affairs depertmental spokesperson told RNZ that "regional processing is an important measure to deter people smugglers from exploiting vulnerable persons from attempting irregular and dangerous maritime voyages, and thereby reduces the risk of the loss of life at sea".

"The Government of Nauru is responsible for the management of individuals under regional processing arrangements," the spokesperson said.

The government has maintained that it remains committed to regional processing in Nauru as a key element of Operation Sovereign Borders.

According to the government, individuals residing in Nauru under regional processing arrangements have access to primary healthcare and mental health services.

Clinical assessment and treatment is provided by a team of multi-disciplinary health practitioners, and specialist health services are available.

Where clinically indicated specialist medical treatment is not available in Nauru, mechanisms are in place for temporary medical transfers to a third country.

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