Australia’s hidden shame

Aljazeera, By Andrew Thomas

Out of sight, out of mind?

That seems to be the policy of the Australian government towards a group of 377 asylum seekers they have sent to the Pacific Island of Nauru.

As part of a tough new policy designed to deter asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka taking to boats and heading to its shores, Australia has brought in a policy of ‘offshore processing’. 

Rather than determine whether or not people are refugees on home soil – and therefore be obliged to give them residency in Australia if they are – Australia has started sending asylum seekers to other countries.

The first is Nauru – a dot in the Pacific Island that is heavily dependent on Australian aid, and therefore keen to help out. 

I travelled there in September, just before the first asylum seekers were sent. 

It’s a hot sticky place, hundreds of kilometres from any other land.  The asylum centre there is better described as a camp: people sent to Nauru are living five to a tent.

If Australia’s policy is meant to deter people getting on boats, it does not seem to be working: people are arriving in as great a number as ever – 14,000 so far this year, with last month recording one of the highest numbers on record.  Maybe they know that most of them won’t be sent off-shore, the facilities simply are not ready yet.

But some are being transferred to Nauru.  And those unlucky ones are – quite frankly – being left to languish. 

Determined to show that no asylum seeker will enjoy any ‘advantage’ by travelling by boat to Australian shores, Australia’s government deliberately wants the processing of their asylum claims to drag out. 

Asylum seekers have been told they will be on Nauru six months before the asylum process even begins. Years might pass before any are declared refugees. 

And then it will be up to Nauruan authorities to resettle them – handing them over to any one of 22 countries.

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