Nauru Destroys Asylum Seeker Tent Camps a Week Before International Summit
Refugees and asylum seekers have been living in toxic conditions.
Australia has been controversially housing asylum seekers on the tiny island of Nauru for years. But this week, in anticipation of the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum, a meeting of political leaders in the South Pacific aimed at enhancing cooperation, Nauru's government has removed asylum seekers from its detention center and then destroyed its tent camp, the Guardian reports.
The removal of asylum seekers is reportedly an attempt to hide the poor living conditions of those being detained, including many young children, from the view of international leaders attending the summit. Infested by mold and lacking livable infrastructure, Nauru’s tent camps have received criticism from various NGOs and human rights organizations.
“This harmful, secretive, and dysfunctional system of detention must end,” Claire Rogers, chief executive of World Vision Australia, said in a statement earlier this month.
Asylum seekers have been relocated to built accommodations elsewhere on the island but any hope of a long-term housing solution is unclear.
“We are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We are in limbo and can’t make any plans for our future,” one woman said.
The tents at regional processing center, RPC-3, were set up five years ago and have hosted more than 330 refugees and asylum seekers since then who have lived in unsafe and unsanitary conditions.
In a 2016 report, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child cited “inhuman and degrading treatment” of minors in the camp, “including physical, psychological, and sexual abuse,” the Japan Times reported. Echoing this statement, Human Rights Watch has said that Nauru’s refugees face “apalling abuse.”
Several children living at RPC-3 suffer from “resignation syndrome,” refusing to speak, eat, get out of bed, go to the toilet, wash themselves, or even open their eyes, the Guardian reports.
According to the Guardian, refugees and asylum seekers on the island are also being exposed to “highly toxic” mold.
“If it was right for people to live in mouldy, dirty, insecure tents for five years, why is ABF [Australian Border Force] so fearful to show it and be proud of itself?” one person on the island said. “Why do they abolish the hell they made and hide it?”
Breaking News: THE Pacific Islands Forum gets underway on Nauru, September 1. Refugee advocates say that authorities are just now taking down the refugees’ tents, said to be full of mould, before delegates arrive & see the conditions. https://t.co/FobvdKwyvipic.twitter.com/5xESPZkuEu— Deb Russell Groarke (@DebGroarke) August 27, 2018
Nauru’s “unlawful assembly law” prevents people from gathering in groups of three or more “in a way that would cause a reasonable person to fear” making it nearly impossible for citizens and refugees to engage in public protest.
Leading up to the Pacific Islands Forum, the Nauru government has also severely limited media access. The country has capped the number of journalists allowed to attend the summit at 30 and barred networks such as ABC. Journalists allowed to cover the event have been advised “not engage in activities that cause or encourage disruption or civil unrest.”
Nauru first agreed to open the refugee and asylum seeker processing center for Australia in 2001 because of its dire economic situation. UNICEF reports that Nauru charges Australia $2,270 per refugee and $756 per asylum seeker every month.
After closing multiple times, the detention center was reopened in 2012. The RPC-3 on Nauru is part of Australia’s immigration policy, which reroutes all asylum seekers arriving by sea to offshore detention centers.
Nauru, located in Micronesia, northeast of Australia, has a strange history. During the 1960s and 1970s, the tiny island country’s economy was thriving thanks to an abundant natural resource — bird droppings. Phosphorus-rich bird guano, accumulated over hundreds of years, was an internationally sought after ingredient for fertilizers and explosives. Only about eight square miles in size with a population of 10,000 people, Nauru once boasted the highest per capita GDP.
Called the “country that ate itself,” Nauru, under colonial pressure, exploited its most prized natural resource. As a consequence, the island’s environmental and economic future is uncertain.
Today, the island suffers from water shortages and an inability to host agriculture. Relying on unhealthy, imported fast foods, Nauru’s population experiences high rates of malnutrition and obesity. In 2011, Nauru was named the world’s fattest country with 70% of its population considered obese.
Adding to these challenges, political corruption persists at the expense of everyday citizens and asylum seekers.