Yesterday more than 200 asylum seekers on Nauru held a protest to demand the Australian government start processing their applications for asylum - and close down the camp, reports Wendy Bacon.
More than 200 asylum seekers on Nauru held a three-hour peaceful protest meeting yesterday calling on the Gillard Government to close down the camp and start immediately processing asylum seeker applications.
Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition provided New Matilda with a copy of a statement he received from the protesters during a Sydney rally against the reintroduction of the policy of sending asylum seekers to Nauru and Manus Island in PNG.
During a phone link-up with the Sydney rally, an asylum seeker said, "Everyone in the camp are in the protest — it is a peaceful protest. We are Iraqi, Iranian, Afghan and Sri Lankan. We are refugees on Nauru. We are holding a peaceful protest to make our complaints about our situation. We are demanding for our processing to be started."
The asylum seekers are the first to be transferred to Nauru under the Pacific Solution Mark 2. More than 4500 asylum seekers have arrived by boat since the Gillard Government reintroduced the policy in August. The government plans to send at least 1000 more to Nauru and Manus Island in PNG. Transfers are happening every few days with the last planeload of 40 people from Iraq and Sri Lanka arriving on Friday.
This leaves thousands more asylum seekers in camps on already overcrowded Christmas Island and nearly 10,000 in some form of detention. The government has now frozen the processing of all applications for asylum seekers who have arrived since the introduction of the new policy.
The protest followed a visit by Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen to the island last week. Asylum seekers say he told them that it would be at least eight months before anyone would begin processing their applications. After the visit, a man was found "turning blue" after a suicide attempt. Two further instances of self-harm occurred on Saturday, according to AAP.
Rintoul told New Matilda on Friday that he believed the first suicide attempt was an immediate consequence of the Minister's visit: "Talking to the other guys, that's what they were anxious to tell us. The picture that I get is that the conditions in Nauru are quite bad and are being deliberately kept that way."
"When Bowen actually came and made it clear that it would be eight to 12 months before you'll even be processed, and 'you'll be here for years' after that. That was the tipping point, not just for him, but for the rest of them."
Parts of a longer letter written in Farsi and signed by 30 protesters was also read to the rally at Sydney Town Hall yesterday. The protesters describe conditions at the camp including inadequate provision for hygiene. They describe the camp as "just tents on dry ground" where there is nothing to do, no education, and nobody to whom they can direct their questions, including the UNHCR or journalists.
They are critical of the Australian government for failing to honour their obligations to protect the rights of asylum seekers. The protesters said they would continue to protest until their "real rights" were recognised.
Speaking at the Sydney rally, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said that while her party had been attacked for criticising the policy when it was announced, it was already a failure. She said the solution to the crisis lay in creating an orderly process for bringing more refugees into Australia from Indonesia. Of thousands waiting there for resettlement, an average of 54 are brought to Australia each year.
Hanson-Young described a meeting with an Afghan mother who fled Kabul with her two children after her husband, who was a journalist, was killed by the Taliban 10 years ago. While she still waits to make an application for resettlement, her children have had no education.
A spokesman for Labor for Refugees, Shane Prince, also spoke to the rally. He was scathing about "well paid politicians" in the parliamentary Labor Party who do not have the"strength to step away from the dreadful Hawke legacy on refugees". (The Hawke Labor government introduced mandatory detention for refugees).
He described the Pacific Solution Mark 2 policy as a "disgrace" and "dog-whistling". He said Labor politicians lied when they said the reintroduction of the policy was about "saving lives". By "shoving the door" shut to refugees, the government was leaving people with "no reason to vote for Labor," Prince said.
Today, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is in Indonesia and has flagged his intention to discuss his "turn back the boats" policy with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono; Abbott visit has drawn the ire of refugee advocates.
Spokesperson for the Refugee Advocacy Network Pamela Curr said, "I can't believe that Abbott is breaching all established protocols and going to Indonesia to spout his plan and lean on them to take back the boats. Has he no sense of perspective — asking an impoverished emerging nation of 238 million people to take back the boats from a wealthy nation of 22 million?"
New Matilda has received this letter, translated from Farsi and signed by the protestors:
This message is from us who have been sent to Nauru Island against our will. We are gathered here inside today to voice our protest as well as announcing our demands:
After getting moved here, we realized that there is no life here; there are no essentials necessary for life. There is no health, no hygiene, and most importantly they're not processing our asylum application.
You can only see empty tents here on dry land, enclosed and confined without protection from any bush-related dangers. There is no entertainment and no sport.
But in relation to processing our application, no immigration officials, no human rights organization or any other exist to answer our questions. No solicitors have access to us. No journalists or media can come to view the critical living situation in this camp that we face.
We are victims of the Australian government's decision, which made no preparation to make this place livable. Immigration must have thought hat all we need is food and water and even this isn't enough due to the increase number of asylum seekers arriving here.
Any future, wefare, education and the goal of a good life can't be seen by us asylum seekers at all.
Our only biggest demand for the Australia government is to start processing our claims ASAP, and granting our applications for resettlement in Australia.
For safety and to avoid being singled out 200+ people are signing this statement anonymously.
October 14, 2012