Nauru a source of intense shame for whole region

Young asylum seeker from Iraq at the boundary fence at the Oval on Nauru.
New Zealand Herald picture

EDITORIAL

THE conditions in which the Australian government is keeping asylum seekers on tiny island nation Nauru is developing into a major scandal, and has the potential to cause discomfort for the New Zealand government.

Files leaked to the Guardian Australia last week confirm what was probably already well known, that the situation for refugees detained on Nauru is barbaric.

The files list cases of self-harm, suicide and the abuse of children. Last available figures said there were 543 detainees on Nauru of which 70 were children. There was a major riot on the island in 2013.

Also alarming are reports the Nauru government is restricting the ability of international media to see what is happening. The cost of a media visa has been hiked to $8000 and applications have been declined.

Australia had already been criticised at the UN Human Rights Council review last November when more than 100 countries spoke during a three-hour session, with many calling on Australia to abide by international law.

This pressure has likely led to the announcement by Australia and Papua New Guinea yesterday that Australia’s refugee detention centre on Manus Island will close.

As well as Nauru and Manus, Australia has 10 immigration detention centres on its own territory — including Christmas Island, where scores of Kiwis have been held. They are part of Australia’s Sovereign Borders policy intended to stop seaborne refugees entering the country.

While New Zealand is not directly involved in these centres, their existence does put moral pressure on the Key government to try to do something.

In 2013 New Zealand made an agreement with the Gillard government to take 150 detainees a year for resettlement, but this was scrapped by Tony Abbot when he was elected.

In June New Zealand increased its refugee quota from 750 to 1000, raising the cost of the programme $25 million to $100m but remaining a low per-capita intake by global standards.

In the meantime, the situation on Nauru is a source of intense shame for the whole region.

THE conditions in which the Australian government is keeping asylum seekers on tiny island nation Nauru is developing into a major scandal, and has the potential to cause discomfort for the New Zealand government.

Files leaked to the Guardian Australia last week confirm what was probably already well known, that the situation for refugees detained on Nauru is barbaric.

The files list cases of self-harm, suicide and the abuse of children. Last available figures said there were 543 detainees on Nauru of which 70 were children. There was a major riot on the island in 2013.

Also alarming are reports the Nauru government is restricting the ability of international media to see what is happening. The cost of a media visa has been hiked to $8000 and applications have been declined.

Australia had already been criticised at the UN Human Rights Council review last November when more than 100 countries spoke during a three-hour session, with many calling on Australia to abide by international law.

This pressure has likely led to the announcement by Australia and Papua New Guinea yesterday that Australia’s refugee detention centre on Manus Island will close.

As well as Nauru and Manus, Australia has 10 immigration detention centres on its own territory — including Christmas Island, where scores of Kiwis have been held. They are part of Australia’s Sovereign Borders policy intended to stop seaborne refugees entering the country.

While New Zealand is not directly involved in these centres, their existence does put moral pressure on the Key government to try to do something.

In 2013 New Zealand made an agreement with the Gillard government to take 150 detainees a year for resettlement, but this was scrapped by Tony Abbot when he was elected.

In June New Zealand increased its refugee quota from 750 to 1000, raising the cost of the programme $25 million to $100m but remaining a low per-capita intake by global standards.

In the meantime, the situation on Nauru is a source of intense shame for the whole region.

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