Nauru protests win processing, Manus detainees transferred—but refugees still in limbo
A second wave of protests has rocked the Nauru detention camp since 17 February. At the height of the protests, there were around 20 people on hunger strike and up to ten people had stitched their lips together.
Six people have been transferred to the Australian mainland for medical treatment.
Mass, united protests still take place every day at 5pm. Around 80 asylum seekers signed a cheeky official request form to hold a “peaceful demonstration in the [Nauru] city” and also for “one megaphone”.
After 23 days, on 11 March, the Australian Immigration (DIAC) director of the camp, announced, “on behalf of the Nauruan government”, that assessors were being brought from Australia and that processing would begin “in about ten days”.
The initial refugee assessments are expected to be finalised in six months. But the asylum seekers were also told that there were no guarantees that they would be resettled in Australia even if they were found to be refugees.
The Australian government is maintaining the fiction that processing on Nauru and Manus Island is being done by the Nauruan and PNG governments, respectively. But Australia is pulling all the strings. The only time a Nauru official will be involved in the determination process is at the very final stage to say “yes” or “no” to recommendations from the assessors.
The announcement has done little to re-assure asylum seekers on Nauru. After the first wave of hunger strikes, DIAC held a number of interviews, but now the detainees know that those interviews had no significance. “We had interviews months ago but now we are told they were for nothing. Are these interviews for nothing? What will happen in six months?” asked one Iranian asylum seeker from Nauru.
Nineteen transferred from Manus Island
Meanwhile 19 asylum seekers, including six pregnant women, most of their families (although at least one father was left behind) were transferred from Manus Island to Adelaide. An eight year-old Iraqi girl, with ear infections and requiring surgery, was transferred with her mother.
There are 29 children still in the Manus family compound, although the transfer is a practical admission that Manus Island is no place for asylum seekers.
The transfer has also raised issues about malaria medication used on the island and its product warning that it should not be used by pregnant women. The World Health Organisation reports that the risk of malaria on Manus Island is “intense”.
On 12 March, Manus Island asylum seekers were told that refugee processing would begin in three weeks. But again they were told, even if they are found to be a refugee, that they will be on the island for between three and five years.
The asylum seekers are sceptical that processing will begin at all. But the announcement has highlighted the nonsense of the “no advantage test”. Thousands of asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia since 13 August, 2012 have been dumped in the community on bridging visas—without work rights. And without being processed.
With processing about to begin on Nauru and Manus Island, the refugee campaign will need to press hard for the right to work and the right for all asylum seekers to be processed on the mainland.