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asylum seekers at the Nauru detention centre having dinner

The End of Howard's cynical Pacific Solution

Image: Courtesy the ABC: Asylum seekers
on Nauru having dinner

It's all over, we optimistically thought in February 2008

It's February 2008, and Kevin Rudd's immigration minister Chris Evans has closed John Howard's horrendous Nauru camp, ending the Pacific Solution.

Or so we thought, along with everyone else in Australia.

We all said 'Good Riddance Howard, Good Riddance Nauru!'

Offshore detention on Nauru

This is a gathering page for writings about the first six years of the Nauru detention centre, opened in 2001 as part of John Howard and Philip Ruddock's horrendous Pacific Solution.

Nauru's two detention centres, Topside Camp and State House Camp, were closed by the first Rudd government in February 2008.

Nauru's facilities were re-opened, under pressure from the then opposition leader Tony Abbott, and the pressure of an increase in boat arrivals, by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in August 2012.

Quick links to sections on this page

John Howard's Nauru (2001-08) pages:

23 September 2007: Sri Lankans: you're all refugees, but not in Australia! - "What kind of country has Australia become? This is the question Australians again have to ask themselves in the wake of the Federal Government's disturbing decision to deny 72 Sri Lankans, who have been found to be genuine refugees, the right to settle in Australia."

 :::UPDATED - HUNGERSTRIKE PHOTOS::: 23 September 2007: Sri Lankan Desperation on Nauru: "we now live with indefinite expectation..." - There's something eerie about refugees, locked up and away from their human rights, celebrating World Refugee Week - but that's exactly what happened in the week of 17th to 23rd June with the Sri Lankans we sent to Nauru after they sought Australia's protection. They sent us photos and a letter; here they are.

3 July 2007:  Sri Lankan Desperation on Nauru: "we now live with indefinite expectation..." - There's something eerie about refugees, locked up and away from their human rights, celebrating World Refugee Week - but that's exactly what happened in the week of 17th to 23rd June with the Sri Lankans we sent to Nauru after they sought Australia's protection. They sent us photos and a letter; here they are.

18 March 2007: The Sri Lankans: being a refugee just ain't cricket... - There's a widespread consensus amongst journalists, reporters and commentators that John Howard eventually closed Nauru, and that it was Labor that resurrected offshore processing. It's not true, Howard never closed Nauru. The deportation of 83 Sri Lankans to Nauru in 2007, under Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, marked one of Howard's last callous anti-asylum seeker acts. The Sri Lankans were flown to Nauru after a secret plan hatched by Alexander Downer to dump them back in Indonesia, collapsed.

10 October 2006: Living in limbo on Nauru: the last Iraqis marooned offshore - Two Iraqi refugees who fled from Saddam Hussein, Faisal and Sagar, remain marooned on Nauru for more than five years, because ASIO declared them as 'official threats' to Australia.

28 August 2006: Five years on, the Tampa drama continues - As SMH investigative reporter David Marr shows, the drama continues, now in the private lives of those refugees who eventually made it into Australia, and barrister Julian Burnside QC gets challenged by Australians on a public Blog.

26 August 2006: The 'Flotsam' Downflow from Indonesia - Without the Migration Bill, will Indonesia dump their refugees on our shores? A reflection on the Burmese refugees and the "coincidence" of the timing of their arrival on Asmore Reef. Includes former diplomat Tony Kevin's speech on Australia-Indonesian relations at an Uniya seminar.

9 August 2006: The Coalition Rebels speak out - Three Government MP's, The Hon Judi Moylan, Mr Russell Broadbent and Mr Petro Georgiou crossed the floor over the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006, sat in the opposition benches, and voted against the Bill with the Australian Labor Party and others opposed. Here are their remarkable speeches.

16 May 2006: David Manne at the "Boatloads of Extinguishment?" - "The new policy of 'Radical Rejection' not only involves offshore processing. The Government has also refused to discount the possibility of using our navy to intercept or interdict boats with asylum seekers on board, without undertaking any assessment of the person's fears or need for protection..."

13 May 2006: The Ban The Boatpeople Bill - The Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006 should really be called the "Ban The Boatpeople Bill". Since Tampa the Howard government has been insistent that "unannounced boat-using asylum seekers" are "illegals" or "unlawful" in their entry. Both terms have no basis in law in Australia...

::: CALL TO ACTION :::18 April 2006: CTA: Australia banishes all boat people ... it must be a joke!!! - A very serious request for your help: A scandalous and brutal Bill has been proposed by the Howard government to block all access to Australia of all asylum seekers arriving by boat, both for processing their claims and for settlement if these claims prove true.

11 April 2004: The Flotilla of HOPE, a journey of compassion to Nauru - On Saturday May 15 2004, the Flagship 'Eureka' of Flotilla of Hope set sail for Nauru, leaving Australia from Sydney Harbour after the goodbyes at Pyrmont Point, sailing via other places such as Brisbane, and then on its way to Nauru. The Flotilla reached Nauru on World Refugee Day 2004, but the boats were repelled by the authorities. Here are the stories of its voyage.

18 March 2004: Force Feeding Hunger striking asylum seekers - An academic paper by Mary-Anne Kenny, Derrick Silove & Zachary Steel: Legal and ethical implications of medically enforced feeding of detained asylum seekers on hunger strike. If called upon to treat hunger strikers, [Australian] medical practitioners should be aware of their ethical and legal responsibilities, and that they should act independently of government or institutional interests.

16 February 2004: Frederika Steen: Through the Nauru Looking Glass - "A significant and growing number of ordinary Australians are appalled. They act - individually and in small groups, from places around Australia, to show compassion and to compensate for what they perceive as official sadism and inhumanity. From the grassroots of Australian society we continue to challenge a Government that has eroded our international reputation for fairness and decency and called into question our values as a society."

11 January 2004: Signing up for Death: the hunger strike on Nauru - The hunger strike has slowly fizzled out after more than four weeks. But if those 'unlucky ones' who are not 'selected' for re-determination stay behind on the Island, there will be another disaster in the future. Only if they receive an offer of protection status in Australia ... further disaster can be averted.

15 December 2003: The Human Rights Day hunger strike on Nauru - "When we were in our own country we were persecuted in different ways by atrocious rulers and governments, but now when we are in the Australian-made detention centers we don't think that we have been treated better than what Taliban and other cruel Governments did to us."

24 November 2003: The Melville Island incident: Australia's New Low - UNHCR regional representative Michel Gaubadan called it "a new low" for Australian refugee treatment. Fourteen Kurdish asylum seekers sought refuge in Australia. In an extraordinary move the Howard government retrospectively excised thousands of islands, including Melville Island - but Senator Andrew Bartlett intervenes.

8 November 2003: Frank Brennan's Lecture: Tampering with Asylum - "Given that Australia has the advantage of geographic isolation, I ask my government, why don't we try to be just a little more decent rather than less decent than other countries with the same living standards when it comes to our treatment of those who arrive (whether with or without a visa) invoking our protection obligations?"

Frank Brennan SJ: Tampering with Asylum3 November 2003: Frank Brennan's book: Tampering with Asylum - With the Howard Government's revelation that 90% of the unauthorised boat arrivals in recent years have been proved to be refugees, it is timely to reassess the harsh measures instituted to process these people who were labelled as unlawful queue jumpers. Brennan does so in his new book.

21 October 2003: Horror on Manus Island: the story of Aladdin Sisalem - In July 2003 Australians were told that Australia's Pacific Solution Lombrum Processing Centre on Manus Island was no longer operational. But DIMIA left one asylum seeker to rot on the Island. Aladdin was Palestinian and Stateless, and Australia claimed, after having locked him up, to have no responsibility for him.

15 June 2003: Russell Skelton, A life worth living: finding Tampa people in Kabul - "...he finds it hard to believe the way he was tricked, manipulated and misled by Australian authorities. "They did everything they could to sink our case for refugee status. We were denied access to lawyers, we we never told of our rights and we were held illegally on Nauru for two years. We were genuine refugees and we were denied asylum."

6 May 2003: Malcolm Fraser launches the book 'From Nothing to Zero' - "These extracts from letters from asylum seekers will help Australians see the refugees' many human problems. They have their hopes, their fears and their concerns for the future, as we all do. Their stories should create an understanding that people from different countries, different cultures and different religions have very similar concerns and interests to ourselves."

27 May 2003: The Role of the Writer in John Howard's Australia - The Colin Simpson Lecture in the Redfern Town Hall. "I have a simple plea to make: that writers start focusing on what is happening in this country, looking Australia in the face, not flinching, coming to grips with the fact that we have been on a long loop through time that has brought us back almost - but not quite - to where we were."

24 January 2003: Australia's Pacific Solution: The BBC & Kate Durham undercover on Nauru - Project SafeCom's first ever, and major, screen event, featuring two screenings at the Fremantle Film and TV Institute, with Democrats Senator Andrew Bartlett and ALP Member for Fremantle Dr Carmen Lawrence. The event was attended by almost 200 people. This page is a 'retrospective' assembly of the various pages for the event.

Page synopsis

February 2008: The last 21 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on Nauru have been recognised as refugees and approved for resettlement in Australia, closing the book on John Howard's notorious "Pacific Solution", writes Sydney Morning Herald's Immigration reporter Connie Levett, and she's not the only keen reporter weighing in on the closure of this vile environment. Here's a page bringing the news, marking the end of a dark chapter.

There are contributions also by Andra Jackson in The Age, Paul Maley in The Australian, and the page finishes with an in-depth picture by one of the very few journalists who managed to get to Nauru, The Age's Michael Gordon, preceded by a press release by Senator Andrew Bartlett, the only parliamentarian who frequently made it to the island in recent years. Good bye and Good Riddance, Nauru!

Howard's 'cynical' Pacific Solution over

The Daily Telegraph
February 08, 2008 05:30pm

SIX-and-a-half years and close to $300 million later, the Howard government's Pacific Solution has been set adrift.

Our Airline flight 351 carrying 21 Sri Lankan asylum seekers from Nauru landed in Brisbane at 1.30pm (AEST) today, effectively marking the end of the controversial policy.

The group, now approved as refugees, have been held on Nauru since March last year and were the last occupants of the detention centre built by Australia in the tiny Pacific island nation.

They are expected to make their homes in Cairns, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Melbourne.

"Cynical, costly"

The controversial policy of keeping asylum seekers in foreign camps was designed to stop them being processed in Australia.

New Immigration Minister Chris Evans welcomed the end of the policy.

"The Pacific solution was a cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise introduced on the eve of a federal election (in 2001) by the Howard government," Senator Evans said.

He said the department had spent $289 million between September 2001 and June 2007 to run the Nauru and Manus centres.

Mental hardship

Mark Getchell, from the International Organisation for Migration, which ran the Nauru facility, said there were now no asylum seekers left on Nauru.

"It is the end of an era," Mr Getchell said.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) welcomed the end of the policy.

"Many bona fide refugees caught by the policy spent long periods of isolation, mental hardship and uncertainty - and prolonged separation from their families," UNHCR's Richard Towle said.

"This ... goes a long way to show Australia as a humane society and in keeping with its international obligations."


The Pacific Solution was formulated after the Norwegian freighter Tampa reached Australia's Christmas Island in August 2001 carrying more than 400 mainly Afghan asylum seekers it had rescued at sea.

Then prime minister John Howard refused to let the group enter Australia, and went into a November election campaigning strongly on the issue.

Offshore processing centres were set up on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, the world's smallest republic.

The Manus Island detention centre has been mothballed since the last asylum seeker left in 2004.

More than 1300 people were held at the Nauru facility, of whom 543 were found to be genuine refugees.

"Resilient and strong"

Robert Lachowicz, the coordinator of the Brisbane-based Refugee and Immigration Legal Service which has worked with Nauru detainees, said resettlement was extremely difficult.

"There are some good support services in Australia, but still there is the mental anguish you have suffered because of the detention and the difficulties you had that made you flee in the first place," Mr Lachowicz said.

"You've got the uncertainty of your new life, usually a new culture and new laws.

"And you've got often another long wait to try and bring your close family over to join you if you are here on a permanent protection visa.

"But most of them are extremely resilient and strong."

The Australian Government is to hold talks with the Nauru and Papua New Guinea governments about the future of the Nauru and Manus facilities and possible aid and development programs.,22049,23180722-5005941,00.html

Pacific Solution sinks quietly

The Australian
Paul Maley
February 09, 2008

ONE of the Howard government's most controversial policies, the Pacific Solution, ended quietly yesterday, when the last refugees detained on Nauru arrived in Australia.

A group of 21 Sri Lankan refugees arrived in Brisbane, the last of the 82 detained on the remote Pacific outpost.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans welcomed the end of the Pacific Solution, which he described as a "cynical, costly and ultimately unsuccessful exercise" conceived by the Coalition on the eve of a federal election.

The closure came as Senator Evans refused an application for a protection visa by an Iraqi asylum-seeker. Ali al-Jenabi was released from jail in 2006 after serving four years of an eight-year sentence for people-smuggling. He also spent 20 months in immigration detention.

He has been issued with a removal pending bridging visa, despite the Northern Territory Supreme Court accepting his chief motivation was to get his seven family members to Australia. All were recognised as refugees in need of protection and now have permanent residency or citizenship.

Opposition immigration spokesman Chris Ellison said the closure could suggest to people-smugglers that Australia was weakening on border protection.

The Pacific Solution was born in 2001 after Norwegian vessel the Tampa intended to land on Christmas Island with 433 Afghan asylum-seekers rescued at sea.

The policy involved the interception of Australia-bound asylum-seekers and their placement in offshore processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. This placed them beyond the reach of Australian courts and was augmented by legislation excising large tracts of coastal Australia from the migration zone.

Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre co-ordinator David Manne welcomed the demise of a policy he said had inflicted "scandalous abuse and cruel indifference" on detainees.

However, he warned the present arrangements, using Christmas Island, were not much better as the Indian Ocean territory had been excised from the migration zone.

"We seem to be moving from the Pacific Solution to the Indian Ocean solution," he said.

Unauthorised arrivals will be processed at Christmas Island, which means unsuccessful applicants could not appeal through the Australian court system.

Senator Evans said $289 million had been spent on the Nauru and Manus Island facilities between 2001 and June last year.,25197,23183785-5013404,00.html

Last Nauru detainees to settle soon

Sydney Morning Herald
Connie Levett Immigration Reporter
February 6, 2008

THE last 21 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on Nauru have been recognised as refugees and approved for resettlement in Australia, closing the book on John Howard's notorious "Pacific Solution".

The men will fly to Australia in mid-February, leaving the Nauru immigration detention centre empty for the first time since the Howard government opened it in 2001. "It's a huge relief," said David Manne, a human rights lawyer who represented many of the asylum seekers. "The Pacific Solution was clearly characterised by scandalous abuse and cruel indifference. This is an important, decisive and decent step." Since the Rudd Government took office, the Immigration Department has quietly dropped its opposition to the 82 Sri Lankans and seven Burmese Rohingyas detained on Nauru entering Australia.

The Rohingyas were brought to Australia in December, and since January 21 the Sri Lankan men have been quietly brought into the country in three groups, of 21, 24 and 16, and spread across five states. The last 21 will come in mid-February.

Wicki Wickiramasingham, the head of Justice and Freedom for Ceylon Tamils in Melbourne, welcomed the news that all the remaining men on Nauru had been approved. The application of one Sri Lankan, who is under medical care in Perth, is still being assessed.

"I am very, very happy the Government ... are doing the right thing," said Mr Wickiramasingham, who had asked the former government to leave the men on Christmas Island.

"They were sent to Nauru for nothing. They spent taxpayers' money, $2.5 million every month, when we have facilities in our own country to accommodate these detainees," he said.

Mr Wickiramasingham spoke with some of the men on Nauru after they heard the news.

"They were very happy. They thought, when half of them went to Australia and they didn't hear anything, they might get stuck on Nauru for a long time."

Departing refugees leave Nauru camps empty

The Age
Andra Jackson
February 6, 2008

Twenty-one Sri Lankan refugees will be on their way to Australia tomorrow, leaving the controversial Nauru detention camps finally empty.

The 21, the last of the original group of 82 Sri Lankan asylum seekers taken to Nauru ten months ago, learned yesterday that the Australian government had granted them permanent protection visas.

They fly out of Nauru today for Brisbane, an Immigration department spokesman confirmed.

Their departure clears the way for the new Federal Government to implement its pledge on January 11 of closing down the Nauru camp and formally ending the Howard's government's so called Pacific Solution for asylum seekers.

A 22nd Sri Lankan asylum seeker who had stayed behind in Perth for medical treatment was also granted a permanent visa, Mr Wicki Wickiramasingham, chairman of the Justice and Freedom for Ceylon Tamils Incorporated group, said last night.

A total of 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers were attempting to seek asylum in Australia last March when their Indonesian crewed fishing boat was intercepted in the Indian Ocean.

They were aged 18 to 28 and most were students.

Last september the first group of 75 had their refugee status recognised.

Mr Wickiramasingham said the group could have been detained and processed on Christmas Island which had better facilities for them.

Instead them were kept on Nauru at a cost of $2.5 million a month for ten months, he said.

Mr Wickiramasingham yesterday appealed to the Rudd government to also consider granting protection visas to the 67 Sri Lankan asylum seekers -seventeen of them under the age of 18, who are stranded in Nauru with no status after fleeing Sri Lanka.

"The situation in Sri Lank is now worse and they have no way of going back to any part of Sri Lanka to live."

Nauru detention centre closure welcomed

Press release
Senator Andrew Bartlett
8 February 2008

Change law to stop it happening again and let Nauruans in too!

Queensland Senator Andrew Bartlett has welcomed the end to detaining refugees on Nauru, but has called on the federal government to amend the Migration Act to prevent similar actions being done in the future.

In the six years that the Nauru detention centres operated, Senator Bartlett was the only Senator to go to the centres, making four visits over four years to meet with refugees and examine conditions.

"The Nauru detention centres will remain a brutal part of Australia's chequered history towards refugees and migrants. Immense suffering was caused to many hundreds of men women and children as direct and deliberate action of government," Senator Bartlett said.

"The Labor government must be congratulated for putting an end to this abomination. However, they should also act swiftly to amend the Migration Act to prevent any future resumption of offshore processing of refugees in any location outside Australia."

"The Democrats opposed the Pacific Solution and have put legislation before the Senate to reverse the legal changes that made it possible. If Labor is genuine in never wanting to see the Pacific Solution resumed, they should amend the Migration Act."

Senator Bartlett also called on greater economic support to be provided to the people of Nauru, whose economy is in an extremely parlous state.

"Australia cannot just walk away and leave Nauru to its fate. That nation is facing huge long-term problems and we need to be there providing substantial ongoing support."

"As well as financial and governance assistance, I urge the federal government to consider allowing all Nauruans to be able to have work rights in Australia."

"There have been many calls from academics and business groups, as well as many Pacific Island nations, for more opportunity for unskilled and seasonal workers from the Pacific to be allowed into Australia.

"Nauru would be well suited to trial a seasonal worker scheme or even an 'open door' arrangement such as we currently have with New Zealand. Australia's historic and ongoing links to Nauru, and the small number of people that would be involved, means this could be trialled with minimal economic or social risk," Senator Bartlett concluded.

Damaged souls caught in third wave of suffering

The Age
Michael Gordon
February 9, 2008

ABDUL Jafari calls it his new, unwanted friend. It is the recurring nightmare that ends when he wakes, crying and in a cold sweat. It would take him a day, he explains, to describe the dream in all its graphic detail, but he offers this synopsis.

He is alone in a desert with only a bucket of water when a wind storm comes and the bucket spills. Then he realises he is near the ocean and notices one of his five children coming towards him in the surging sea, calling for help. He runs into the water, reaching for the child's outstretched hand, only to see it disappear. There are other nightmares, too, like the one where he is chased "from mountain to mountain" by men with guns, and many dreams that involve his family, where "they keep following me and I keep following them".

But it isn't just the nights and the dreams that Mr Jafari has come to fear. Lately he has become forgetful, prone to losing things and subject to panic attacks. As he explains it: "I remember my family and then my mind shuts down."

It happened recently when he was driving to his job as a meat packer in Dandenong. He crashed his car and caused around $2400 damage to another vehicle. Luckily, no one was hurt. Since then, he has ridden to work on a borrowed bike that is too big for his tiny frame.

Mr Jafari, about 40, has not seen his wife and children since he fled Afghanistan eight years ago. The youngest child was not born when he left. He has no pictures and struggles to remember their faces and their ages. Compounding his heartache is the feeling of guilt that he is now safe while they are not. "I am living in a peaceful environment, but my mind is not in peace," he said.

The departure of the last asylum seekers from the Nauru processing centre yesterday marks the end of the former Government's Pacific Solution, but the anguish continues for hundreds, like Mr Jafari, who suffered under it. It also poses a challenge for the new Rudd Government.

More than 11,000 people who were demonised as queue-jumpers were subsequently found to be refugees and afforded temporary protection. About 9500 have since been granted permanent protection and, with it, the right to sponsor family members to join them.

Most who had wives and children have now been reunited but many, like Mr Jafari, have not. Indeed, about 800 applications to sponsor families are still being processed by bureaucrats, and other refugees, who have only recently been granted permanent protection, are yet to lodge their applications.

Insiders say refugees like Mr Jafari can be confident that their applications will ultimately be approved, though it could take another 12 months. The situation of others, like Aslam Kazimi and Younis Mohammadi is potentially more problematic.

Mr Kazimi was 18 when he married Latifa, who was 17, in January 2000. Within two months he fled his village in Afghanistan, insisting that, if he had stayed, he would have either had to join the Taliban and kill others or be killed. While he was detained in sweltering isolation on Nauru, he discovered that his wife had conceived during their two months of marriage and he had a son. Then came the tragic news that his baby had died in a bomb blast. His family fled to Iran but became separated from his mother, who was deported to Afghanistan, in the winter of 2005. Since then, Latifa has cared for Mr Kazimi's three brothers and his sister, all of them still teenagers, in Pakistan.

Mr Kazimi's father was murdered by fundamentalists when he was 14. He discovered only last year that his mother had died after her forced return to Afghanistan. Her sister had borrowed money (that Mr Kazimi has since repaid) to take her to hospital "but it was unsuccessful". His siblings still do not know their mother is dead and Mr Kazimi does not want to tell them until he can do so, face to face.

Despite all this sadness, Mr Kazimi has worked hard since settling in Melbourne after spending 3 years in offshore detention on Nauru, first as a factory worker, now as a painter. His fear is that, if his wife is given a visa to join him, there will be no one to care for his siblings.

Mr Mohammadi's story is similar. He was among those rescued by the Norwegian freighter, the Tampa, in August 2001, an act of compassion that prompted the Howard government to insist that those rescued would not be allowed to set foot on Australian soil. This was the beginning of the Pacific Solution.

His wife is caring for his two children, one of whom he has not seen, as well as his three younger siblings, while he works in a Dandenong factory and waits for a decision on his application to bring them from Pakistan to Melbourne. "It's hard, but what can I do?" he says.

Paris Aristotle, director of the Victorian Foundation for the Survivors of Torture, says Jafari's emotional deterioration is typical of many cases being assisted by the foundation. "And it's not difficult to imagine why that is the case," he tells The Age.

"We'd all be responding in the same way. Those features of a sense of hope being dashed time and time and time again are consistent in a number of people right now. The ability of people to recover from profound trauma and loss is almost always linked to a great extent to their ability to re-establish their families.

"In the absence of that, dealing with loss, grief, guilt, all those things, is almost impossible because there is this constant and persistent yearning for something that has been left behind."

David Manne, co-ordinator of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre (RILC), describes the anguish of those still without their families as a "third wave of suffering", the first being the trauma that forced them to become refugees and the second being their period in detention.

"There needs to be a whole review of the current system of family reunion," says Mr Manne. "There needs to be more flexibility in terms of who and which family members are included and there needs to be an expansion of the program."

The demand for help in preparing applications to sponsor family members is so strong that organisations like RILC run regular evening and day-long sessions on Sundays, where volunteer lawyers, helped by interpreters, assist refugees to fill out forms and offer advice.

IT IS emotionally draining work, even for those who are trained to remain detached. One interpreter, for instance, remarked last Sunday that, despite 22 years' experience that included working in the Baxter detention centre, there were times when he had to excuse himself so that he could cry.

How recently had this occurred, I asked. "Last week," he replied. "Today."

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, shares the concern of refugee advocates and says it will support any one-off arrangement to expedite the reunion of families that remain separated under the policies of the former government.

"The denial of family reunion to these people is not in the interests of the refugees, their families or the Australian community," says Ariane Rummery, a spokeswoman for the UNHCR. "It keeps refugees in a traumatic and protracted period of uncertainty where they cannot get on with their lives. It delays their integration into Australia life and can lead to long-term psychological harm."

New Immigration Minister Chris Evans, offered the refugees some cause for optimism when he answered a series of questions from The Age, but said the priority given to processing separated families had to be "managed flexibly within the overall allocations of the program".

While his expectation was that the department would deal "flexibly" with family groups, he said "clear evidence" would need to be provided that younger siblings were part of the family group refugees were seeking to sponsor. This poses potential problems because "clear evidence" in the form of death certificates of parents or other documentation often does not exist.

On the question of whether these cases could be dealt with outside the humanitarian program, Senator Evans says it will be "examined against other priority areas in the program".

Mr Kazimi, Mr Mohammadi and many others, meanwhile, do their best to reassure family members over the telephone, though the lack of progress leads to feelings of depression and guilt.

Such is Mr Jafari's anxiety that he flew to Pakistan late this week to reassure them even though he will face a bigger financial burden if his application to sponsor them is successful. "I have to see them and tell them that I am their father," he told The Age.

The temporary reunion may rekindle the dream of the family being together in a safe environment. At the very least, it might bring an end to his nightmare.

What was the Pacific Solution?

The Howard government's policy of transporting asylum seekers, who attempted to come to Australia by boat, to processing camps on Manus island in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru. It was implemented after the Government refused the Tampa permission to drop a cargo of rescued asylum seekers on Christmas Island in August 2001.

What did it cost?

While government figures put the cost of running the offshore centres at $289 million, a report prepared by Oxfam and A Just Australia calculated the total cost at $1 billion, including navy interception, detention centre infrastructure and running costs, aid packages to Pacific governments, transport and health services.

What happened?

Of more than 1500 who arrived between 2001 and 2003, almost 1000 were resettled as refugees, most of them in Australia, 78 were resettled without being found to be refugees and 482 returned voluntarily after being told they would not be allowed to resettle in Australia.