By Alison Phipps for The National
I wake up to the news from a tiny island in Micronesia, Nauru. Nauru – coral reef, white-sandy beaches, photographs which make it look like paradise. It is the site of the off-shore detention facility where the Australian government out-source the detention of people who arrive, seeking refuge.
Outside Gosford Parish Church, NSW, the wayside pulpit sign reads: “Hell exists and it’s on Nauru.”
There has been a leak – not of oil onto pristine beaches – but a cache of documents. Over 2,000 files. I am caught between a strange relief that, at last, what many of us have known for years is coming fully to public knowledge, and the same horror which accompanies any report of immigration detention, not least in the UK.
Those who have made the perilous journey from Indonesia and landed in Australia will be sent to Nauru for detention and settlement in PNG or deportation back to their unsafe homes. Australia has not simply sanctioned the detention, in appalling conditions, of children, women and men who have sought refuge, Australia has actively legislated for this practice, against the Refugee Convention, and has made illegal any reporting from within the detention facilities. This includes, horrifically, the reporting or whistle-blowing by medics, of child abuse. As a consequence, in 2015m the Australian Medical Association said it would oppose this legislation. Since then doctors have defied the law to expose stories of child abuse.
When Prof. Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission published the Commission’s report in 2015 The Forgotten Children, she was vilified and asked to resign by the Abbot-led government. The report’s findings included the following:
- “Children on Nauru are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress
- the inevitable and foreseeable consequence of Australia’s transfer of children to Nauru is that they would be detained in breach of article 37(b) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
- Australia transferred children to Nauru regardless of whether this was in their best interests, in breach of article 3(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
Today Prof Triggs is telling leading news outlets in Australia that the cache, published by the Guardian on Wednesday, has “revealed the extent of abuses and trauma on the island” and that it backs up its own review. Amnesty International is saying the need to pressure the government to close offshore detention centers has never been higher and UNHCR is “gravely concerned.”
Of course, we are no better. The ‘dirty-deal’ between the EU and Turkey sends people who arrived from the Mediterranean back to Turkey. In Calais Citizens UK have identified 170 children legally eligible to be reunited with their families in the UK. They are stuck in limbo. Help Refugees UK census in May this year counted 568 children, 74% of whom are unaccompanied.
The UK pays for the maintenance of the hard border in Calais which has effectively become our own Nauru. Questions have been asked repeated in the UK parliament, not least by Stuart Macdonald describing the Immigration Act 2016 as a ‘dark piece of legislation’ in this regard and after his visit with SNP members of the Home Affairs Select Committee. And then there is the roll call of shame of the detention centres in the UK – Yarl’s Wood – with serial reports of serial abuse – Harmondsworth, Colnbrook – with the suicides and deaths in detention. Not to forget Scotland’s only detention centre – Dungavel – where as a detainee visitor I witnessed the shame and misery of so many denied their freedom, including children.
Rod Bower, The Anglican Priest leading Gosford Parish Church, NSW – a site of much campaigning activity against the cruel and degrading conditions in immigration detention in Australia – has said of the Nauru files that “if the protecting of our borders requires the incarceration of bodies, the sexual abuse of children, the rape of women and the murder of men, then we are of all nations the most depraved.”
Hell exists. It is detention.
Read more about the Nauru files on the website of The National.