While three single men were returned to Nauru from the Darwin’s Wickham Point detention centre on 16 April, protests inside the centre stopped the planned transfers of any asylum seeker families to Nauru.
On Wednesday 15 April, around 70 people blockaded the entrance to Sun compound to prevent Serco guards removing the families. Protests continued on Thursday—at one stage five pregnant asylum seekers were on the roof of Sand compound—when it seemed Immigration was about to seize more people for transfer.
The protests also seem to have extracted a guarantee from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton that no pregnant asylum seekers will be returned to Nauru. But families with new babies remain at risk.
Sand compound, which houses families that have been brought from Nauru to Darwin mostly for medical reasons, has become the scene of weekly protests and harrowing self-harm incidents and attempted suicides as desperate asylum seekers try to prevent their removal to Nauru.
Up to 25 self harm incidents in one day have occurred among asylum seekers threatened with return. One teenager broke her pelvis, last August, when she attempted suicide by jumping from the second floor of an accommodation building. Two asylum seekers attempted suicide by the day before the 15 April protest.
American musician Michael Franti took part in a vigil outside the Wickham Point centre after a performance inside the facility was called off because of the unrest.
Abuse cover up
The protests in Darwin are driven by the fact that the asylum seekers know the stark realities of detention on Nauru.
They have been driven home by the “Open Letter to the Australian People” signed by 24 current and former Save the Children and medical staff on Nauru.
The letter follows the Moss Review commissioned by the Coalition government itself, which confirmed instances of abuse of women and children on Nauru. It also exonerated Save the Children workers who were sacked and removed from Nauru last year for daring to raise the abuse allegations.
Morrison tried to shrug it off. Abbott too dismissed Moss saying, “Occasionally, I dare say, things happen.”
But the Open Letter makes it clear that Morrison covered up the physical and sexual assaults against women and children on Nauru for 17 months before the Moss Review.
Meanwhile the Nauru government has attempted to ban all protests by refugees, who are maintaining their non-cooperation campaign with the island’s detention regime.
A new law decreed on 23 March requires seven days notice of any gathering of more than three people and gives complete power to the Nauru police commissioner to approve any protest.
Nauruan refugees responded with protests on Good Friday and Easter Monday.
Now the government is scrambling to try and get Nauruan refugees to agree to go to Cambodia. A fact sheet being circulated to both refugees and asylum seekers says, “The first flight from Nauru to Cambodia for refugees will be as soon as 20 April 2015.”
The fact sheet promotes Cambodia as a place that, “does not have problems with violent crime or stray dogs”, a tacit admission that Nauru does have such problems.
But there is little sign of any numbers being interested. As Solidarity goes to press, there are no confirmed refugees for the flight.
Asylum seekers are being leaned on to agree to go to Cambodia even before they have been found to be refugees—with offers of permanent visas and cash.
The desperate efforts to get refugees on the plane is confirmation of the increasing pressure building on both the Nauru and Australian governments to find a resettlement solution for the refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.
The PNG government was forced to admit on 27 March in a letter to an Iranian refugee on Manus that, “PNG does not yet have a National Refugee Settlement Policy in place that defines how settlement will take place”, after almost two years.
It is more evidence of the constant rolling crisis that dogs the government’s off-shore processing regime.
The refugee campaign needs to take advantage of their crisis to build the reach of the grassroots campaign.
In some of the biggest protests for years, 15,000 people marched in Melbourne and another 3000 in Canberra as part of the national Palm Sunday ‘Welcome Refugees” protests before Easter.
Thousands are expected at Sydney’s rally on 19 April. We can use that momentum to build for a rally outside Labor’s federal conference in Melbourne on 25 July to demand real change and a real alternative to the policies of mandatory detention and offshore processing.
By Ian Rintoul