Report by Pacific Media Centre
The Border Force Act is the most recent in a number of draconian Australian laws surrounding the treatment of refugees in the Republic of Nauru. Asia-Pacific Journalism reports on the asylum seekers crisis.
Report – By Matthew Hutching
After receiving four of Australia’s Nauru-based refugees in April, Cambodia has said it has no plans to resettle any more.
The announcement was made on Friday when Cambodia’s Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told the Cambodia Daily: “We don’t have any plans to import more refugees from Nauru to Cambodia.”
It is the latest in a string of bad news for Australia’s refugee management strategy.
The nation, which has a policy to never resettle any asylum seeker arriving by boat, brought the Border Force Act into law in June. The Border Force Act threatens to imprison anyone working for the Department of Immigration who discloses information that they witness in their work.
Former Nauru aid worker James Harris says this threat includes people like himself and anyone else contracted to work in detention centres.
He said the Act is an attempt to stop doctors and aid workers telling the media about anything they have seen on Nauru.
“A number of people were abused and it was reported to staff,” he said.
“Those staff used internal reporting structures, but nothing happened. Children who had been abused were still in the same situation. So finally 10 staff went to the media with it because all other channels were exhausted.
“The internal reporting structures have proved not to work. Now under the Border Force Act it would’ve been an imprisonable offence for those same 10 people to go to the media with what they’d witnessed.”
The Act is the most recent in a number of draconian laws surrounding the treatment of refugees in the Republic of Nauru.
The small island nation’s government, which Harris says is essentially a puppet of the Australian government, has recently raised the price of a journalist visa to A$8000, and banned Facebook, among other websites, saying it was a crackdown on pornography.
Harris had a personal experience of being under surveillance when he posted privately on Facebook after the Nauru riot in July 2013.
“I posted a Facebook status that I knew was within the scope of what I was allowed to say under the Department of Immigration deed poll I had signed, which restricted me sharing information about Nauru.
“I posted an article about the riot and said I was still in Nauru and would continue to work with the asylum seekers. I finished the status with ‘a riot is the language of the unheard’, a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.
“Two hours after posting, I was pulled out of the compound by a Salvation Army manager. I was told that the Department of Immigration and Citizenship had found my Facebook status and wanted me to know that I am “not being dismissed at this stage” for the post but that they wanted me to know that they were watching me.
“I was advised to remove the Facebook status, which I did. I later found a screenshot of that Facebook status in the downloads folder of a Salvation Army work computer.”
Harris told his story in a submission to the Senate Select Committee on allegations relating to conditions and circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru. The submissions have revealed a lot of alleged abuse of asylum seekers from contractors Wilson Security and Transfield Services Ltd.
In a submission on August 19, former Wilson security staff member Stuart Anthony Thompson said: “I was a staff sergeant in the South African police during and after the apartheid era and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I have never witnessed the injustice and ill-treatment of human beings that I witnessed at Bravo Camp, RPC Nauru.”
James Harris says the Australian government wants Nauru to be a deterrent.
“They want people to choose to go home. But department statistics say nine out of 10 who come to Australia by boat are genuine refugees. So nine out of 10 cannot return.
“You have a situation where they’re pushing people to breaking point so that they’ll make that choice to return. The nine out of 10 are really vulnerable and cannot return so there are not any options once they hit breaking point.
“Things like self-harm and suicide attempts are pretty regular. That was your average day. And even minors that were self-harming. Seeing children in detention full stop is pretty horrific.”
Once processed as a refugee at the detention centre, refugees were settled in the Nauru community on five-year visas. However, these visas have recently been extended to 10 years, consequently relieving pressure on the Australian government to deal with the issue quickly.
Since Australia’s A$40 million resettlement deal with Cambodia has fallen through, the future of asylum seekers on Nauru remains uncertain.
Harris said New Zealand is not doing anything to help either.
“Part of the problem is that less than one percent of refugees worldwide are resettled each year. So people are left with no other option than to get on boats and take a really risky journey.
“The fact that New Zealand only resettles approximately 1000 refugees each year is contributing to the reason why people are getting on boats. So we’re not playing our part.”
Matthew Hutching is a postgraduate student journalist in the Asia-Pacific Journalism course at AUT University.