Nauru refugees protest ‘Cambodia solution’

Children protesting on Nauru in September. Photo:

Continuous protests in the Nauru refugee detention camp peaked with up to 600 people breaking out of the family compound just after midnight on October 10.

An asylum seeker told Sydney’s Refugee Action Coalition (RAC): “Day to day, night to night, the situation on Nauru is getting more serious for us.”

The protests have been accompanied by self-harm and suicide attempts, including one person hanging themselves, a 15-year-old girl swallowing detergent, others ingesting washing powder, lip-stitching and a hunger strike.

The protests began on August 25 over the uncertainty and lack of processing for refugees. Men, women and children have been struggling in deplorable conditions for months on end. RAC said the escalation on October 10 followed an Australian immigration officer telling asylum seekers: “You can’t go to Australia, you must go to Cambodia.”

Photos from the camp, obtained by the Perth-based Refugee Rights Action Network, show children holding signs that read: “Only our corpse might go to Cambodia” and “it is not fair”.

The anxiety over possibly being sent to a country where refugees have barely any rights or protection is worsened by immigration minister Scott Morrison’s moves to reintroduce temporary protection visas thorugh a deal with the Palmer United Party. Morrison informed Nauru detainees that they would not be eligible for the visas in a video screened in the compounds, worsening unrest.

The bill could mean refugees who were on the same boat as those now exiled on Nauru could receive at least temporary protection in Australia.

RAC spokesperson Ian Rintoul said if the TPV bill becomes law, “it will also permanently separate refugees on Nauru and Manus Island from their close families in Australia. One Egyptian man on Manus Island would be permanently separated from his daughter and sister who already have permanent residency in Australia. It is arbitrary and unfair.”

“We want to send a very clear message to Scott Morrison and the Palmer United Party, that the refugee campaign is resolutely opposed to the re-introduction of temporary protection visas. They will condemn refugees to permanent separation from their families and permanent insecurity.”

Nauru refugees are struggling for their rights in an atmosphere of desperation and powerlessness. A 24-year-old Iranian woman who has been held on Nauru for more than a year called the camp “God’s own hell”. She told ABC Online that after Morrison’s video was screened, two women tried to kill themselves and another hunger strike broke out.

Allegations of sexual abuse against women and children by security staff, made by Save the Children, raise the urgency of asylum seekers’ protest.

The ABC reported: “Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said women inside the centre were regularly required to strip and exchange sexual favours with guards so they could have access to the showers.

“She said there were also allegations children had been forced to have sex in front of guards at the centre.”

The government responded by accusing Save the Children of fabricating the claims and removed staff from the island.

Refugee advocates in Australia joined protesting refugees on October 11 in solidarity protests in Sydney and Melbourne.

Rintoul said the government was moving quickly on crushing refugee rights: “Morrison’s temporary protection bill also proposes sweeping new changes to the migration (and other) acts, such as the Maritime Powers Act to dramatically curtail the rights of asylum seekers.

“Morrison is desperate to change the law to put the government out of reach of court decisions, as it faces legal challenges in the coming week; one to its kidnapping of 157 Tamil asylum seekers on the high seas in July and the second to deny asylum rights to babies born in Australia to mothers who arrived by boat after 19 July last year.

“Morrison’s offshore processing regime is untenable and morally bankrupt. He is paying $40 million to the Cambodian government for perhaps four or five refugees to be resettled, while there are 200 refugees on Nauru who have nowhere to go.

“The government is spending $500 million a year to bomb Iraq. While hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers pour across the borders of Turkey, in Australia asylum seekers from Iraq, Syria and Palestine are condemned to the hell-holes of Manus Island and Nauru or left destitute, denied processing in the Australian community.”

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