I’ve just returned from a quick two day visit to Nauru – my fourth in four years. I had a look at the recently renovated facility where the refugees are staying and met with many of them. There has been a different situation each visit I’ve made, and this one was no different in being different.
I also visited a local pre-school, met with Australian government officials and with the people from IOM who are running the centre where the refugees are staying.
Leaving the refugee issue to one side for a moment, the country of Nauru is facing some enormous financial and economic issues, but it seems to me the current government is at least taking a realistic approach to the challenges, rather than pretending they aren’t there. AusAID, the Australian government body responsible for delivering overseas development assistance, is providing support in the areas of infrastructure, health and education. This funding is separate from the money spent to construct and run the asylum seeker facility, which is all funded by the Australian government to the tune of many millions of dollars.
It is impossible to disconnect the fact that Australia is getting the benefit of being able to ‘warehouse’ refugees on Nauru outside the constraints of any legal processes and obligations from the level of development assistance that Australia is providing, but it is still important we provide that assistance.
The pre-school (or Infant School) I visited was a clear example of that. The schools I had been to on previous visits to Nauru had had terrible, and frankly unsafe, conditions. The one I looked at this time had been repaired, painted and generally made safe and clean with AusAID assistance – something which is beyond the finances of the local government. According to the teacher I spoke to at the school, this simple action had led to a big and sustained increase in the number of children attending, as well as greater involvement of parents in the school.
And there’s nothing like a bunch of happy kids bouncing around you to gladden the heart, however temporarily.