Refugee advocates say: NAURU refugees should be immediately released

Project SafeCom Inc.
P.O. Box 364
Western Australia 6312
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Refugee advocates say: NAURU refugees should be immediately released

Media Release
Tuesday 28 January 2003 - 12:00 WST
For Immediate Release
No Embargoes

Refugee advocates from several groups around Australia, together with ALP's Carmen Lawrence, today called for an immediate and total disclosure by the Minister for Immigration of what incidents took place on Nauru, when they took place, and about the circumstances of detainees in the Nauru camps run by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

They also called for the immediate release into the community of all remaining on Nauru, and argued that the government gives more than ample evidence that it is unable to handle the implications of its atrocious policies in the 'Pacific Solution', and that it tries to manage the crisis by failing to inform Australians about the disaster it has created, and keeping the facts hidden wherever it can, thinking it can get away with this tactic of treating the Australian public like sheep.

"On Nauru we have asylum seekers, running away from the torturous regime of Saddam Hussein and from other countries", Jack Smit of WA refugee group Project SafeCom Inc. said, "and Howard in his greed to win another election, stuffs them on an appalling island, farming responsibility out to a crumbling country in a state of disrepair".

"Next it gets IOM to look after them in the hope they can further duck their responsibility under the UN Refugee Convention, and now IOM has been found out to abdicate its responsibility and duty of care for the refugees", Mr Smit said.

Letters from refugees from Nauru have told of an incident on December 24, after which IOM moved out of the detention centre, leaving detainees without medical facilities or sufficient meals.

Refugee advocates from Melbourne wrote on their discussion forum: "We have received several reports from refugees held in Nauru concerning the way they are being treated by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Recent letters from Nauru include the following allegations:

  • since a disturbance in the camp on 24 December, no IOM or Australian personnel remain in the camps: they guard the camps from the outside;

  • detainees get only one meal per day;

  • there is inadequate fresh water: detainees depend on rainwater;

  • no medical attention is available to injured and sick detainees;

  • no cigarettes are available: those who smoke are using dried leaves;

In one of the letters, an asylum seeker from Afghanistan writes:

"I appeal the Australian humanitarian people and humanitarian organizations to put pressure on the government to not force us to return and to not push us in fire of Afghanistan again. Have mercy on innocent people (refugees). We are waiting at your door and requesting you to grant us shelter in your country. The women, children, old and young, are looking at your door when you will open it."

"There is no reason to believe any statements by the Nauru IOM Manager Cy Winter in last Friday's Sydney Morning Herald", Mr Smit said. "IOM has no credibility, especially when the same Cy Winter is on the record for assaulting refugee advocate Kate Durham, as was shown on the documentary 'Australia's Pacific Solution' last year." IOM seems to be in the business of making a profit from the refugee business, and it has not proven to be a humanitarian organisation", Mr Smit said.

In her address at a Project SafeCom cinema screening of the BBC documentary in Fremantle last week, Federal ALP member for Fremantle, Dr Carmen Lawrence pointed to the fact that people like Kate Durham who have encountered the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which operates the Nauru camp, have raised questions about the way IOM has cared for the asylum seekers who are detained there.

"Many assumed that IOM had some direct connection with the UNHCR. In fact it is run by its member countries and its current Director is one Brunson McKinley, a former U.S. Ambassador, including to Haiti between 1986 and 1989," Dr Lawrence said.

She reported that a Human Rights Watch Report on Haiti concluded:

"U.S. silence on abuses under the Avril government was due in large part to Ambassador Brunson McKinley, whose insistent deference to the Haitian military since the ouster of the Duvalier dictatorship, led gradually to this virtual abandonment of U.S. public criticism of military abuses."

Other accounts of these same years point to the fact that Brunson McKinley was consistently uncooperative with Americans concerned about Haiti, and "particularly contemptuous' toward the Congressional Black Caucus. An Americas Watch Board member reported that McKinley dismissed human rights violations as unproven and when offered proof, allegedly said he found such issues "boring".

"Perhaps it's not surprising that IOM have such a poor record in Nauru and are prepared to carry out the obscene "Pacific Solution" for the Howard Government," she said.

Project SafeCom's Jack Smit also commented: "In June last year Australians were told that '... the Australian government says the processing of all the Tampa asylum seekers held on the Pacific island of Nauru will be completed by the end of this month, with most refugee claims expected to be rejected ... ' "(1)

"That in itself was a manipulation", said Mr Smit, "since recently many refugees were shipped to New Zealand, a country which, in contrast to Australia, takes its care for refugees seriously. In addition, we want to know why the government thinks it can promise to process claims within one month, while seven months later hundreds are still in these appalling conditions."

Phil Griffiths of the Refugee Action Committee in Canberra commented: "The Australian government kidnapped refugees off the Tampa and other ships, then dumped them on Nauru, just so they could wash their hands off the responsibility for them. The abdication of IOM's responsibility by moving out of the camp is disgraceful, and only adds to the disaster."

Mr Griffiths went on to say: "These are precisely the people that Bush and Howard pretend to care about: the Iraqi people persecuted by Saddam Hussein. If the people in Iraq are treated the same way after George Bush has finished with his war as the Iraqis on Nauru, history will certainly condemn John Howard."

"These are the people who had to suffer so that John Howard could get re-elected on the basis of lies and fear mongering. These are the people rescued by the Tampa or came on boats shortly after."

"Among the refugees waiting to be released from the Nauru camp, are seven mothers and twelve children who have been waiting over a year for the day when they can rejoin their husbands and fathers. Howard's cruel regime denies these families the right to family reunion, denies these children the right to see their fathers. How much longer must they wait?" says Pamela Curr, Victorian Greens Spokesperson for Refugees.

The closure of one of the main camps on Nauru represents total policy failure and an abuse of human rights," said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. "There needs to be an open inquiry into the conditions of the asylum seekers on Nauru and the conditions of the Australian government contracts with the government of Nauru and the IOM."

"Asylum seekers on Nauru require urgent humanitarian assistance, and the use of Nauru to process asylum seekers has meant that asylum seekers have been abandoned in the most appalling conditions," he said.

Families have been separated in the most cruel manner imaginable. Iraqi men accepted as refugees in Australia have families on Nauru that have been denied refugee status and are denied the possibility of uniting on the mainland by Australian law. They have lost contact with their families since the closure of the Iraqi camp. Australian Immigration authorities have denied having any responsibility for these people and have refused to intervene on behalf of refugee resident in Australia.

"It is time for both the Liberal and Labor Parties to formally quit the Pacific Solution or its Indian Ocean alternative of imprisoning asylum seeker on Christmas Island."

"We are calling for all asylum seekers presently on Nauru to be brought immediately to the Australian mainland."

NOTES: (1) See a CNN report on June 14, 2002:

For further information:

Hon Dr Carmen Lawrence MP
Federal Member for Fremantle
[Phone number posted]

Mr Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[Phone number posted]

Mr Phil Griffiths
Refugee Action Committee, Canberra
[Phone number posted]

Mr Ian Rintoul
Sydney Refugee Action Collective
[Phone number posted]

Ms Pamela Curr
Victorian Greens Spokesperson for Refugees
[Phone number posted]

Ms Kate Durham
[Phone number posted]

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