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Nauru - has life suddenly got better?

Nauru: Has life suddenly got better?
Last Monday the Nauruan government unexpectedly declared that the  650 asylum seekers currently held in detention on the island are "free to come and go as they wish". This was, of course, just a happy coincidence for the Australian government, which two days later was facing a hearing in the High Court on the constitutionality of Australia funding offshore detention. This new development allowed the Solicitor General, Justin Gleeson SC, to tell the Court that the detention centre on Nauru could now be properly described as a "designated place of residence", and that the case should therefore be thrown out. George Orwell would have been impressed.
 The kindest thing that one could say about all this is that it is an utterly cynical move on the part of the government.
But does it change anything for the asylum seekers?
Sadly, the effects of the change are overwhelmingly negative. The reality is:
·       The detention centre is where they will have to continue to live as there are no other places for them on the island.
·       There is abundant evidence, in spite of the secrecy, that life on the island outside the detention centre presents even greater danger for asylum seekers than the centre itself - which we already  know is an unsafe and inadequate facility for women and children.
·       The asylum seekers will not be resettled in Australia once their claims for refugee status have been processed. They will be issued 10-year visas to stay on Nauru, which is an indication of how long our government thinks it might take to resettle them elsewhere. Their already-shattered lives will remain on hold.
·       Nauru is a tiny island of just 21 square kilometres and a population of 10,000. Settling the refugees here would be the equivalent of Australia taking in 2 million refugees. And Nauru is a poor nation. Human Rights organisations and Save the Children have constantly reported that Nauru is not an appropriate place for the resettlement of refugees.
·       The effect of "opening up" the detention centre will make it even easier for the Australian government to wash its hands of any responsibility for the asylum seekers on Nauru. We will undoubtedly and increasingly  hear our government claiming that the asylum seekers are entirely the responsibility of the Nauruan government, notwithstanding the fact that we sent them there and we are paying billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to keep them there.

The asylum seekers on Nauru, therefore, will now simply live in an open, rather than a closed prison, with no hope for the future unless our government changes its policy. Their situation is as desperate as ever, and we should redouble our efforts to bring this shameful  situation to an end.


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