The Refugee Action Coalition released the statement below on March 13. The day before, ABC Online said five asylum seekers had escaped the centre, but were returned quickly.
The Nauru Director of the Department of Immigration has told a meeting of asylum seekers in the Nauru detention camp that their refugee assessments will begin “in about 10 days” [on March 18].
The initial refugee assessments are expected to be finalised in about six months.
Despite telling the meeting that he is speaking on behalf of the Nauruan government, the details of the processing reveals that the processing is totally controlled by the Australian government.
A Nauruan government officer will only be involved at the very final step to accept or reject recommendations made by the assessors flown from Australia.
In answer to a question from one asylum seeker, trying to explain why processing is happening on Nauru, he said: “The Australian government decided it will happen this way.”
The asylum seekers were also told: “If you are found to be a refugee there is no guarantee that you will be resettled in Australia. You may be resettled in another country that accepts refugees.” The director
then listed countries such as the United States, Canada, Britain, Sweden, Norway and Finland, but was unable to say how long resettlement could take.
The DIAC announcement comes after 20 days of asylum seekers stitching their lips and hunger strike protest, and numerous self-harm and attempted suicide incidents. Six asylum seekers have also been flown to the Australian mainland in the past two weeks for medical care.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesperson Ian Rintoul said: “The Director’s announcement has blown the so-called ‘no advantage’ principles of the Australian government out of the water. Asylum seekers on Nauru are being processed while those on Manus Island and those in Australia remain in limbo. The government must start refugee assessments for the thousands of asylum seekers living in the community.
“The announcement is unlikely to put an end to the protests in the Nauru camp. The government has said nothing about how long people will be left on Nauru even if they are found to be refugees. Nobody can explain to them why they have been victimised by being sent to Nauru.
“Now that refugee processing is about to begin, there is even less justification for their mistreatment.
“Just as under the Howard government, while a few might go to New Zealand, but the majority of the refugees on Nauru and Manus Island will be resettled in Australia. The government should end the fiction and the victimisation and bring all the asylum seekers to Australia.”