As part of my efforts to ensure asylum seekers sent to Nauru are not forgotten, it is worth noting that seven Burmese asylum seekers have just recently been sent there, with an eighth likely to follow after further medial treatment. They will be kept in detention on Nauru. They arrived not long after the numbers on Nauru were reduced to one lone Iraqi refugee, now hitting his five year anniversary on the island. Their removal to Nauru was reported on this Bangladeshi based website which appears to be run by democracy activists in exile from western Burma.I understand that at least some of the eight Burmese men have been living in Malaysia for 8 years. Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees and does not recognise asylum seekers, so all refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia are classified as illegal immigrants, denied access to any services and always at risk of possible imprisonment or deportation.
Being on Nauru will not only make it easier for them to be out of mind. It will prevent them from having access to any enforcable legal rights in regard to their asylum claim. Even basic legal assistance becomes much harder, with direct phone calls into the detention centre difficult, leaving them to rely on phone cards to call out to Australia or elsewhere.
Despite the welcome rejection by the Senate recently of legislation which would have expanded the opportunities to send asylum seekers to Nauru, the changes in the law made in 2001 that enable asylum seekers intercepted on islands off the mainland to be sent there still stand. If you think this is wrong, keep telling government MPs and Senators to go the full way and repeal this part of the law entirely.
By way of noting that the Australian government is lying when it says it is now standard policy to send all asylum seeker boat arrivals to Nauru, we should also remember that there are still other asylum seekers being kept on Christmas Island, including some who arrived in 2005.
UPDATE (23/9): An article in The Age by Michael Gordon contains some interviews and information on the 7 refugees who are now in Nauru. Michael Gordon has done a great job over recent years bringing the human stories of many of the Nauru-based refugees into the public arena.
UPDATED (30/9): This story on the ABC quotes the regional head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), who run the camp on Nauru, as saying that it is “quite likely” the asylum seekers meet the refugee criteria. However, how long it will take the Australian government to make that assessment, and what they will do with them after they do come to that position, is another matter. The refugees are outside any legally enforceable process, so there is no way of forcing the Australian government to mett any timelines, or to ensure that refugees are promptly provided with durable protection.
UPDATED (2/10): Michael Gordon has done another comprehensive article detailing the situation facing the last two Iraqi refugees caught in the new of the 2001 Pacific Solution. It contains some poignant descriptions of Mohammad Faisal, who is currently kept in a hospital in Brisbane – just a few kilometres from where I live. However, it focuses mostly on Mohammed Sagar, the last one on Nauru itself.
“People tell me they wish me a happy life and that this would end. I say, ‘I don’t want to be happy. I just want my life back … whether it would be happy or sad doesn’t matter. I just want it back.” How can a country that prides itself on upholding principles of natural justice and the rule of law tolerate a situation where two men are detained for five years without being told what they are accused of?
UPDATED: (4/10) Today’s Age newspaper details Nauru’s decision to try to charge Australia a visa fee of more than $1.2 million a year to keep Mohammed Sagar on the island. No response as to whether Australia will pay. (not that I’m claiming a scoop or anything, but I mentioned this on this site back on 12th Septemeber.)
This story in the Sydney Morning Herald is also worth a read. It gives more insight into the research by the Edmund Rice Centre, who have ben tracking the fate of 41 asylum seekers who were forced back to Afghanistan from Nauru.
The Edmund Rice Centre tracked 41 returnees this year, all but four of them Afghans, and found that 39 were in perilous conditions. Only one lived in Afghanistan, constantly on the move. The rest lived illegally in Iran or Pakistan without proper documents because it had proved too dangerous for them to stay in Afghanistan. The two who had found safety lived in New Zealand