The Government of Nauru announced on 3 October that it would lift all restrictions of movement for all asylum seekers currently accommodated at the Australian Government-run offshore processing and detention centre on the tiny island republic.
The reclassification of the detention facility to an “open centre”, came with a pledge to process the approximately 600 refugee claims from people at the centre, within a week. Though the Nauru Government has since backtracked on this commitment.
There is significant concern that whilst a seemingly promising move, the decision to open the centre will in reality, have very little effect on the day-to-day lives of asylum seekers and refugees at the centre, who will still be housed there, and have always been permitted to leave the centre during the day.
Further, the ‘release’ of refugees, shows detention and drawn-out processing were never necessary, despite the average length of time of 402 days asylum seekers spend in the immigration detention centre.
The violent lack of safety of both asylum seekers housed at the detention centre, and refugees who are already living in the community in Nauru, has been exposed by the Senate Inquiry into abuses in the detention centre, and by consistent reporting from those on the island, refugee advocates and journalists.
The incidents of sexual violence and rape of refugee women in Nauru, in particular, have made clear that Nauru is not a safe place for permanent resettlement.
Asylum seeker and refugee advocates in Australia are also wary that this move towards an ‘open centre’ model of detention was made in a bid to hinder a High Court challenge to the legality of offshore detention, heard just two days after the announcement about changes to the centre.
Indeed, a leaked internal document from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection revealed that the Australian Government knew of the Nauruan Government’s plans, despite claims to the contrary, and intended to use the shift to an ‘open’ centre in its arguments to the High Court. More information on the High Court challenge can be found here.
Hospital doctors protest to demand release of children from detention
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) Vice President Dr Stephen Parnis has said that hospital doctors are placed in an “invidious position” often at odds with their ethical and legal obligations when discharging children back to immigration detention.
The comments came as hundreds of staff from Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) protested to demand an end to the detention of children. There are currently almost 200 children in centres on Nauru and the Australian mainland. Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy supported RCH staff, who may be risking up to two years’ jail under the Border Force Act, which prohibits health care workers and immigration detention staff from speaking out.
Inspired by the act by RCH, about 300 health staff from Bribsane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital have similarly called for children to be released from immigration detention centres.
In February the peak psychiatrists’ body said children should be kept in detention for no longer than three days. Public opposition to keeping kids in immigration detention seems to be reaching a critical juncture.
The serious long-term psychological and physical impacts on detained children are well evidenced: immigration detention is never in the best interests of the child.