Australia refugee detention camp expose breaks blackout

Rare look into Australian-run processing center reveals conflicting claims of imprisonment vs freedom; squalor vs comfort

Australia refugee detention camp expose breaks blackout

World Bulletin / News Desk

For the first time in four years, a television crew has been granted access to one of Australia’s offshore asylum seeker “processing centers” which has, until now, been shrouded in secrecy.

On Monday evening, a tabloid television show threw open the doors of a holding camp - formerly a detention center - for asylum seekers detained indefinitely by the Australian government on the tiny Pacific Ocean island of Nauru.

“[Resettling in] Australia is out of the question,” Nauru President Baron Waqa told Channel Nine’s A Current Affair reporter Caroline Marcus in his first interview with Australian television.

Viewers saw and heard two starkly conflicting perspectives through the eyes of detainees versus Nauru government officials.

From the detainees came claims of sexual assault, rape, unhygienic living conditions, overcrowding, beatings, crime, poor medical testament and bullying of asylum seeker children at the island school.

(In February Nauru suddenly decided to open the gates of its detention center so detainees could roam freely but not leave the island.)

From the island nation's justice minister, David Adeang, assertions that Nauru has "much lower" rates of sexual assaults, murder and rape than Australia, that many refugee assault claims are fabricated or exaggerated and that refugees were "certainly living better" than Nauruans.

The program showed new refugee housing containing air-conditioning, microwaves and televisions.

Conversely it disclosed that single male asylum seekers are still housed inside the detention center in cramped conditions and moldy tents.

Waqa insisted that refugees are “well looked after” despite the obvious despair that many exhibited to cameras.

“They're not locked up there," he said, referring to the inmates' protesting behind the camp's fences. "They take pictures behind the fence then they walk out."

He said they “should be ashamed of themselves, calling Nauru 'hell'”.

One man told the program he feels unsafe leaving his quarters at night for fear of harassment from Nauruans. Others alleged that Nauru police didn’t follow up complaints.

Women detainees shared similar concerns, with one claiming she reluctantly "got married to be safe".

Adeang said such claims were inflated or untrue.

"[They] have an accident, and they claim that a couple of boys beat them up. That hurts us. They have relationships, somebody gets pregnant, and they claim it was born out of sexual assault and rapes."

Adeang maintained that such allegations were "political" and an attempt to smear the Australian government's offshore detention policies.

Many detainees spoke disparagingly of Australia.

A man said: "Three years ago, I liked [Australia]. But now, never. My kids don't like [to live in Australia]."

Australia’s mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers who arrive “illegally” by boat has been described by the United Nations as inhumane and degrading.

Asylum seeker processing centers on the islands of Manus and Nauru opened in 2012.

In March last year, a UN torture prevention team called for greater transparency on conditions and systems governing the immigration detention center in Nauru.

The call for transparency extended to the media.

Until the Nauru government granted Channel Nine’s A Current Affair film crew visas, offshore processing centers had been virtually off limits to the media.

The Nauru government charges media a non-refundable $8000 visa application fee.

Since the center opened, only one journalist had previously legally reported from the island - The Australian newspaper’s Chris Kenny.

Prior to Monday’s program going on air, refugee advocates had questioned how the A Current Affair team managed to score access to Nauru, when other media have failed.

Some predicted a sanitized version of the Australian-funded detention camp.

Marcus told the show’s host Tracey Grimshaw that the Australian government played no role in the program gaining access to Nauru, and that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton's office had called Nauruan authorities "asking a lot of questions" after learning of the visit.

Last Mod: 21 Haziran 2016, 09:29
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