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What future for detainees on Nauru?

In recent months, the terrible war raging in Ukraine has never been far from the daily news headlines. 


The Russian invasion, and the subsequent enormous destruction and loss of life, has been widely, and rightly, condemned by the world at large. Millions of Ukrainians have been either internally displaced or have fled to safety in other countries. 


Our government has commendably played its part, and to date has welcomed several thousand Ukrainians. They have been granted temporary, three-year humanitarian visas, which allow them to work, to study, to access Medicare and other benefits. The assumption is that, once peace returns to their homeland, they will choose to return home. In the meantime, they are safe from danger and are being generously supported by their local communities.


Sadly, it is a very different story for many others who have fled war and persecution in their home countries, and who have sought safety on our shores.


Let’s look at the tiny island of Nauru, situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and home to fewer than 11,000 people. For almost ten years, our government has used the island as a place of detention for many hundreds of asylum seekers. 


Billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money have been spent in keeping them out of sight and out of mind. They have been subjected to terrible mistreatment and abuse, which has been widely documented. Today, just 112 asylum seekers and refugees remain on the island, but their situation is dire, and made much worse in recent weeks by an outbreak of COVID, which has infected almost half the population.


There have been many calls to bring these remaining people to Australia, pending their resettlement in New Zealand, Canada, or the US. Advocates are urging the government to allow them to come here, to offer them the medical and other support that they need and to reassure them that they will remain here in safety until their arrangements for resettlement elsewhere are finalised. It is a request that makes good sense.


 It makes no sense at all for the government to spend $4 million a year for each detainee on Nauru, when they could be accommodated in Australia for a tiny fraction of that sum. Detaining people indefinitely causes enormous mental and physical harm, and has caused enormous damage to our international reputation. But that’s politics!


Michael Griffin


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