The Nauru government seem fed up. Earlier this year they demanded that the detainees on the little island that just happens to be part of the government’s Pacific Solution be processed within six months and not left to languish for years. Now, the island has a detainee hunger strike on its hands and a group of six Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been charged with r-pe or indecent assault of a local Nauruan woman.
Given that the tiny nation has a bit of trouble on its hands, Kevin Andrews’ decision not to grant Human Rights Commissioner Graeme Innes access into the offshore processing centre seems to have been the last straw.
Yesterday the Nauru government echoed our own PM’s famous line, “It is a decision for the Nauru government as to who is allowed into the country and similarly, access into the offshore processing centre is a decision of the Nauru government,” said Foreign Minister David Adeang.
As more than 50 Sri Lankan detainees enter their fifth day of a hunger strike and one Sri Lankan asylum seeker is facing charges of rape and five others with assault, the Nauru government have made a temporary decision to withdraw the Visas which permit asylum seekers to move around the island during the day.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Asylum seekers on Nauru are usually allowed to leave the detention centre between 8am and 7pm under an arrangement between Australia and Nauru.
Crikey understands that a prominent Australian QC has agreed to represent the men at the centre of the allegations if the men so choose. At present, the men have been assigned a local Naurun lawyer, organised by Australian government contractors IOM. The men now need to decide whether to retain the local lawyer or to seek the services of the QC.
“We’re seeing a fundamentally flawed and unfair policy at play which is rotten at its core and the terrifying human consequences are once again being played out in a very graphic way,” David Manne from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre (currently representing 27 Sri Lankan detainees and 7 Burmese, none of whom are on hunger strikes) told Crikey. “But recent history has shown us how bad it can be on Nauru for asylum seekers detained on Nauru. Leaving people in this prolonged limbo causes profound distress and damage. What we’re looking at is an untenable situation.”
“But the fundamental problem is not Nauru,” says Manne. “It’s the Australian government policy of casting innocent people into indefinite exile in a place that’s extremeley remote, inaccessible and poor. These people are placed out of sight, out of mind, out of rights.”
The Nauru government to date has had quite a supportive relationship with the detainees on their island.
“The recently reelected Naurun government have been very open to requests from people like us to have direct and unrestricted access to asylum seekers,” Manne told Crikey. “The government has clearly recognised their fundamental right to legal assistance and have fully facililated this.”
But it now seems the wheels are falling off what was already an untenable situation. Says Manne, “the Nauru government have upheld and shown respect for the dignity and rights of detainees on Nauru – the question remains, will the Australian government start to do so?”