Nauru protest against detention enters 34th day

Issue 
Nearly every day they come with new banners and signs, created with the few resources they can access in the centre.

Sun filters through as a golden blur in low-resolution photos and a few seconds of shaky video clips — evoking the difficulty of getting footage of a protest the Nauru government does not want you to see.

But even with three fences in the way, you can still see the 144 asylum seekers, including children, who are protesting against their detention in the Nauru Regional Processing Centre.

The protest started on March 20, the same day as the Palm Sunday marches in Australia. Protesters face constant threats and intimidation from guards; attempts to hide them from the outside world by building temporary fences; a letter from the immigration department saying they will never make it to Australia; and vicious attacks by guards if they allow their frustration to boil over after 1000 days in detention.

Still the protests continue. One of the signs changes each day to show the length of the protest — it now reads “34 days”.

Nearly every day they come with new banners and signs, created with the few resources they can access in the centre. They hold signs saying “Seeking asylum is not a crime” and “Aussies let us live in Australia”.

Others say “Turnbull it's not just us — listen to your people — lose the offshore now!!!” and “1000 days in detention”. Children often hold up paintings of sad faces behind bars.

An Iranian man was arrested on April 19 for attempting to commit suicide. He said he could not bear to see his one-year-old daughter suffer from mental illness anymore without getting medical assistance.

In a recent parliamentary hearing on children in detention, a department of immigration and border protection official revealed that almost half of the children moved from Nauru to Australia for medical reasons are suffering mental illness, especially depression and anxiety. This comes after years of studies that show detention centres are “mental illness factories”.

The Iranian man could be charged with attempting suicide. Prosecutors on Nauru say they want to deter people from using suicide attempts to “protest” or “blackmail” them. Another man was charged with attempting suicide and convicted within three weeks. But sexual assault allegations brought by refugees on Nauru go unheard or drag out for months with no resolution.

The asylum seekers raise and cross their arms as they chant “shut down offshore.” Guards pace in front of them and try to stare them down.

Three fences away, a few dozen of the several hundred refugees who have been “resettled” on Nauru support the protest, joining in with the chanting. Kids in both groups, barely up to their parents' knees, stand right up against the fences and talk to each other.

The refugees who are supporting the protest by taking photos have faced physical intimidation by guards and those joining in the chanting have been threatened by Connect that they will be arrested if they continue.

Connect Settlement Services holds the contract to help resettle refugees in the Nauruan community. Their website says one of their core aims is “restoring independence, hope and dignity”.

They took over the contract from Save the Children, after agreeing to the Australian government's requirement that their workers would never speak to the media about the conditions in the detention centre. Save the Children had refused to agree to this gag order.

There are plenty of reasons to protest the treatment of refugees resettled on Nauru. A woman was recently raped on Nauru and wants an abortion. She is requesting to be transferred to Australia, as abortion is illegal on Nauru. The Australian government has so far denied her request.

Meanwhile in Australia, the government seems to be stepping up deportations. On April 19, a man who was being deported from Perth airport said to refugee activists who had gathered at the airport to protest his deportation: “I would rather take my life than return home. They would torture me to death.”

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