Nauru police strip and handcuff refugee worker

March 17, 2016
Nauru detention centre.

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney released this statement on March 13.

* * *

An Iranian Arab refugee was held naked and handcuffed for a night and a day at the Nauru police station after he was arrested on March 10.

The refugee, who also works for Connect, an Australian service provider for refugees on the island, was arrested after police were called to an argument between the refugee and a local shopkeeper. Even though the shopkeeper declined to make any formal complaint, the police arrested the refugee.

At the police station, police would not allow the man to make a phone call to the Connect emergency number for assistance. Instead, he was handcuffed and placed in a cell.

After numerous pleas to remove the handcuffs, “to free my hands”, the police stripped the man of all his clothes, leaving him completely naked and handcuffed in the cell.

He was kept naked and cuffed until he was released on March 11 after a Connect manager attended the police station. No charge has been laid against the man, although he has been told he may have to appear in court at an unspecified date.

The arrest and brutalisation of the refugee is the latest example of the discriminatory policing of refugees on Nauru. The incident also raises questions about the complicity of Connect with the discriminatory policing of refugees.

There have been previous incidents in which Connect has called the Nauruan police over disputes about housing. One involved a female Iranian refugee, who was held for several days. In another, an Iranian refugee was separated from his 8-year-old daughter and held by the police for almost two weeks after Connect called the police.

The arrest of the Connect worker on March 10 comes days after Nauru police said there was nothing they could do about a machete attack on another Iranian refugee at Nibok on March 5.

Despite requests for greater security, neither Connect nor the police have provided a guard for the man and his wife, even though the locals responsible for the machete attack attacked their accommodation and threatened to kill the following night. Connect have also declined requests by the threatened couple to be moved, even temporarily, to safe accommodation.

Police and Connect are also turning a blind eye to a racket involving gangs of locals, often armed with machetes, stealing motorcycles from refugees in Fly Camp.

Spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition Ian Rintoul said: “Nauru is not safe for asylum seekers and refugees. The Nauru government is both unable and unwilling to provide the protection and secure future for the refugees they are holding for the Australian government.

“That lack of safety is one more reason why the [Malcolm] Turnbull government should not return the 267 asylum seekers who are presently in Australia, to Manus Island and Nauru. Allowing the 267 to stay should be the first step to closing the camps.”

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