New refugees forced to Nauru – UPDATED with more info on the refugees’ story

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.More...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

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  1. Look on the bright side – it reduces the Unit cost per day of the facility – so beloved of being quoted by previous posters on this topic. (Friday afternoon flippancy excuse)

  2. question for andrew
    1 are all the asylem seekers on christmas island actualy locked up or in the comunity there.
    2 its a bit hard to beleve that it cost 50 million dollars to keep a few ppl there for two years ( who got the money)!!

  3. I’d suggest some contractors got most of the cash through overcharging the government; the same way Halliburton has ripped off US taxpayers through Army contracts.

  4. to answer your questions, Red crab:

    1 – I don’t know. I’d suspect they are in a type of community based detention, but I will see if I can find out.

    2 – such costings are based on figures the government has provided, and I presume they wouldn’t overstate it. To keep facilities in a state of ‘operational readiness’ is not cheap, including a team of security, maintenance. Plus even though there’s only been two people, there have required full-tme specialist health workers plus catering. Freighting food and everything else to Nauru is also extremely expensive.

    All of which just shows why it is so ridiculous and irresponsible to send asylum seekers to places like Nauru (let alone Christmas Island) just for political purposes.

  5. Red the mix of detention arrangements on Christmas Island is that there is one family of parents with 2 children living in the community on a ‘residence dermination’ and the rest as men (over 18 years) with no kids are locked up in the phosphate hill detention facility.

    There is no provision for common sense in the mandatory detention regime of Australia’s Immigration law.

  6. I have no problem with asylum seekers being sent to Nauru until they are thoroughly checked out – but it sounds as if they are being sent into permanent exile.

    Perhaps the government doesn’t have the means of checking some of them out??????

    If an expensive facility has now been set up, it doesn’t make good economic sense not to use it.

  7. Coral has clearly been living on another planet for the past five years or she would know that sending refugees to Nauru has denied them legal rights, driven them insane, seen some 450 sent home to Afghanistan by virtual force and children tormented to the point of lunacy.

    No problem sending Burmese people to Nauru? Which is not a signatory to the refugee convention, which has no means of support except these refugee jails, which has no regular food supplies or phones, or mail or anything much at all? A nation that is dying and a nation that we refuse refuge to the citizens of as it sinks into the sea?

    Let’s get this very clear now Coral – once and for all.

    The people being kidnapped from the high seas and sent to Nauru are entering the country on “special entry visas” that they have never applied for. Why is it that Australia puts people into these absurd refugee prisons because they come without visas and then gets to send them to another foreign country with visas they have never asked for.

    As Burma and Malaysia are not a million miles from Nauru I feel sure though that the refugees would have gone to Nauru if they wanted to without being forced to by us.

    The absurd story of Mazhar Ali is instructive of how many laws this DIMA break to get their own way.

    Mazhar Ali arrived with his sister and five nieces and nephews in January 2001 and was locked up in Woomera. By March 2001 he and his sister had been deemed by DIMA to be from Afghanistan and allowed to make refugee claims. In May his sister was rejected only on the basis of a “language analysis” test that said she could be from Pakistan or Afghanistan, the RRT decided in July that she was effectively stateless. They kept her and the children locked up knowing very well that her husband was in Sydney – they phoned him for her 4 days after refusing to tell her for 6 months that he was here.

  8. Continued. In January 2002 he jumped off the fence at Woomera and nearly died. In July 2003 he was deported to Pakistan but no-one knew how until very recently when the documents were presented to the senate estimates.

    In October 2002 DIMA used a bogus Pakistani ID – they have blacked out the face so I don’t know who it is but clearly they know it is bogus or they would have left the picture intact – sent it to the Pakistan embassy and had it ‘confirmed’ that Ali Mazher was a Pakistani. Bizarrely they claimed to have matched someon to his dead father as well. The thing is that Mazhar was never shown these documents – I am waiting for an expert to translate them for me.

    In July 2003 they dragged this boy who they knew was from Afghanistan, shoved him on a plane with an Australian certificate of ID that says he is Ali Mazher from Pakistan and sent him to Karachi. He was in Bangkok airport for 2 days because he had no travel documents.

    At Karachi he was arrested because he had no travel documents, bribed his way out and was deported to AFghanistan from where he sent ID for his sister and the children in December 2003. In July 2004 he was interviewed by the Norwegian Refugee council and his voting card was cited.

    The truly deranged thing? The prison guards who dumped him illegally in Pakistan were TRAVELLING WITHOUT VISAS.

    This is trafficking in anyone’s language but DIMA are never brought to account – they are totally lawless.

  9. Marilyn:

    I didn’t say I agreed with the human rights atrocities you mention.

    I meant that the facility should be used appropriately.

    I didn’t think my comments warranted this kind of reaction or insult.

  10. Well a minor vicotry – post 4 point 2 at least an acknowledgemtn of the distinction bebvtween fixed and marginal costs – previously pointed out but not uinderstood by the more rabid posters.

    and I also agree with the conclusion

  11. Coral you missed the point – the notion should not be used at all. Ever. It is a gross violation of the rule of law, the refugee convention and everything the refugee convention was set up to do.

    It was partly written by Australia for god’s sake, by Bob Menzies, and Howard has thrown it into the bin for political gain.

    The law still states “a person must be in the migration zone to apply for a protection visa”.

    Precisely where that migration zone is today is anyone’s guess but it is an artificial and illegal construct of the law.

  12. question for andrew
    re comment4
    why do they need 2 full time specialist health workers.
    the hospital and its staff on christmas island not good enough for them.

  13. I have no idea where the migration zone is.

    I am quite happy for all asylum seekers, illegal immigrants, immigration queue jumpers and potential terrorists to be checked out and processed as far offshore as possible.

    What to do with them after that is the real dilemma, if no other countries want to take them.

    LOL … perhaps Japan might open its benevolent door???

    Perhaps John Howard has more concerns about the activities of terrorists than Bob Menzies ever had.

  14. red crab: – sorry, I was thinking of Nauru.

    Coral: any linking of asylum seekers and terrorists is ludicrous, and one I personally find extremely offensive. Almost all the people we sent to Nauru had fled either the Taliban, Saddam or Iran. To them turn away or punish them using false assertions that they might be terrorists themselves is the sickest of jokes.

  15. Andrew:

    I said nothing about punishing anyone, or turning anyone away without due cause. I am not in agreement with any kind of persecution or atrocity.

    I was not making a joke. Our national security has to be the first priority.

    If you want to read things into my comments which aren’t there, you will need to take responsibilty for them yourself.

    A person can make a list without there being a link. When I go out to the shops, there is not necessarily a link between all of the things I buy there. They’re just being sold in the same place.

    Similarly, refugees of various kinds are not necessarily linked because they are processed in the same place.

    N.B. I am not linking human beings with shop purchases either.

  16. Coral your problem is that you don’t have a clue what you are talking about. Refugees have nothing to do with national security. I know that many of the bigots in Australia use it as an excuse to torment people but it is not true.

    In response to turning away refugees fleeing from the Nazis the world wrote a convention in 1951 guaranteeing that such things could never happen again. Bob Menzies was one of the authors and there are two major factors.

    1. Anyone turning up with a well founded fear of persecution in another country must have their claims legally and honestly considered.
    2. Such refugees must never be sent to or returned to such places or the frontiers of such places.

    In 1967 a protocol was written that guaranteed protection to every refugee from every area in any country that has signed the convention and protocol. Article 31 of that convention says clearly that no-one should ever be punished in anyway whatsoever for the method of arrival or the lack of documents.

    This was signed by Australia on 2 December 1973 and into Australian law in 1992. At no time before 2001 did we ever consider sending people away if they came here. We might have been a bit rough but never inhuman and cruel as we are today.

    The tragedy is that genuine refugees are simply not capable of travelling legally which is why they are genuine refugees – that is legally recognised in the conventions.

    To tell some people that they are not allowed in because they caught a boat to an island and to send them into orbit for 5 years as we have done since 2001 punishes them.

    People from the same places who are deemed not to be refugees are not turned away or locked up when they fly here. It doesn’t make a lick of sense to lock up genuine refugees and leave those who are not geniune free to roam the streets.

  17. Andrew:

    On further thought, I find your comment that “any linking of asylum seekers and terrorists is ludicrous” to be a little naive.

    All asylum seekers are supposed to be thoroughly checked out. Until this process has been completed, no one can say whether or not they are terrorists or anything else.

  18. Coral if you are a median Australian (and I fear you are), John Howard has read the voters well and will win another land-slide on fear and maintaining the bigot-quo in Australia.

  19. Wrong again, Rob. I’m not a median Australian voter or a bigot. Quite frankly, a less patient person could easily tire of your insults.

    There is quite a difference between fear and precaution.

    I have never voted for John Howard, not even after his large pre-election bribe of additional family payment right before the last election. I have the intelligence to know where such bribes are leading.

    Unfortunately, most of the women I advised not to vote for him did so anyway, based on short-sighted greed. Now they are regretting it.

    I think John Howard is relegating refugees into what amounts to permanent exile on Nauru, in order to discourage an influx of squillions of middle eastern refugees to our shores.

    No doubt this would cost the government even more than maintaining a very costly, virtually empty, fully staffed facility on Nauru.

    Marilyn, I think you could also give a little more thought to what other people are saying, instead of what they are not saying.

    I don’t disagree with most of what you have said – insults aside.

    However I do find your comment that “refugees have nothing to do with national security” to be little more than unmitigated tripe.

  20. One has to wonder why the government needs 127 full-time staff on Nauru. John Howard must be expecting a major influx of new arrivals.

    I feel increasingly certain that he is refusing to process the refugees to discourage others from coming.

    I also think John Howard and George Bush are both very scared.


    Do you know why the United Nations isn’t doing more to solve problems in the world’s trouble spots?

  21. ASIO turned our whole family inside out and upside down for about 6 months before they would employ one of my sons in a very sensitive government job. They told us almost nothing and I’m sure our phone was tapped.

    I think ASIO agents know what they’re doing. If they have found these people unsuitable, we should trust in their expertise.

  22. Coral what do refugees have to do with national security? We wrote and signed and enshrined the refugee convention into our domestic law.
    This allows anyone to seek asylum here and is specifically designed and written to exclude it’s use as a national security issue.

    For pete’s sake – over 3 million people fly into Australia every year on visas they get on the internet – I am more concerned about this because not one of them is subject to any checks at all.

    There is a clause in the refugee convention that rightly excludes anyone who is a war criminal.

  23. 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.  There is also a report in the SMH detailing research into the fate of 41 Afghan asylum seekers forced back by Australia – links at bottom of the main post.

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