At the time I am writing this, 82 asylum seekers are within an hour of being put on a chartered plane, along with 68 accompanying Australian officials. The charter flight the federal government solely to fly 8 Burmese refugees from Christmas Island to Nauru in October last year cost $225 000. I presume this flight is a larger plane. The government’s figures say the average cost of maintaining the facility on Nauru is about $2 million a month, although this will presumably now go up significantly.
I just received the following in an email from a refugee advocate regarding the Sri Lankan asylum seekers, which gives a bit more information:
At 1pm Christmas Island time (5pm Eastern summer time) 82 young men and boys including the underage minor will be loaded on a charter flight in the custody of 68 immigration staff and Australian Federal Police and taken to the impoverished island of Nauru where they will be detained in this island gulag until the Howard regime is over.
In response to the exposure of the Governments action in denying lawful requests for legal assistance from these young men, the department has today issued each person with a letter stating “We will give you lawyers and legal advice on Nauru” and telling them that they can apply for Australia or another country when they are on Nauru.
Naturally the Government will not tell them what they have told us – namely that they will never be allowed to come to Australia or explain where these “lawyers” will come from since there are none on Nauru.
There is no question that many if not all of these young men have strong claims for protection.
• Many have been tortured, beaten, imprisoned, seen family members killed or had friends and family disappear.
• Many have pieces of shrapnel lodged in their bodies from being caught in crossfire or in direct attack.
• All are young men in late teens or early 20’s, a group at risk of being press ganged into fighting or killed by either side.
• All are Tamils from Sri Lanka- a country at war with itself in a violent and bloody conflict
Thank you for your many kind offers of phones but as you have probably guessed, mobile phones are of no use where these young men are going. Even the Telstra phone system has been broken for months. The local phone system is very expensive-1dollar per minute to Australia and there are only 2 phones for over 90 people.
UPDATE: I just found this article about child soldiers in Sri Lanka on the recently initiated Brisbane Times site. It gives a very current insight into how dangerous it can be for Tamils, no matter what position they take on the long running civil war there.
Bus taking refugees to their chartered jet flight to Nauru – Xmas island airport, 17/3/07. (photo by Xmas Island Rural Australians for Refugees group)