On Monday 5 October, the Government of Nauru announced its regional processing centre used to house asylum seekers would become an ‘open centre’, effectively ending detention. As from this coming Monday, 12 October, all asylum seekers will be effectively free to move around the island. In this week, the Nauruan Government also committed to processing 6000 asylum seekers’ outstanding refugee claims.
The news went viral almost immediately on social media, with comments about how good this announcement was for those held in mandatory detention on Nauru. But beneath the “gloss” of the initial statement, there lies some very deep concerns for Uniting Church members and particularly for refugee advocates within the Church and the wider community.
The Uniting Church has been calling for an end to the policy of mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees for many years. The Church believes asylum seekers should be able to reside in the community in Australia with the right to work and access to education, healthcare and other social services as required while their claims for asylum are processed. The Church has also advocated that asylum seekers who arrive by boat must not be subject to arbitrary detention, which is illegal under international law.
Following the release of the Senate Select Committee on the Recent Allegations Relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru’s report on 30 August, Uniting Church in Australia President, Stuart McMillan, re-conveyed via media that it was the Church’s firm call to immediately close the detention centres and bring everyone to Australia.
Nauru’s decision to fully open its immigration detention centre just days before the High Court of Australia heard a challenge against offshore processing has emerged as a core element of the government’s defence. The High Court challenge has the potential to dismantle the system of offshore processing supported by Australia’s main political parties.
There are significant concerns about what releasing people into a community that has previously responded with violence might mean. Given the allegations of sexual assaults, and the absence of the ability of local police and judiciary to protect the rule of law for asylum seekers in Nauru, what kind of freedom will this really be?
Rev Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice says “the detention centre on Nauru breeds despair and hopelessness, neglect and abuse, and severe mental and physical health problems. We can no longer ignore the damage we are inflicting on vulnerable people, including children.”
The Uniting Church’s call to the Government remains strong – we will continue to call for the immediate release of all children and their families from detention centres including Nauru, allowing them to live in the Australian community with appropriate access to funded legal advice, medical care, social services (including financial support), and education while their claims are processed. Nothing less will suffice!
What you can do to help:
Sign a copy of the Uniting Church’s online petition calling for an immediate closure of the Nauru detention centre: http://www.justact.org.au/offshore_detention
Order a hard-copy of the petition from email@example.com or by phoning 9251 5266 and get members of your congregation or other groups to physically sign the petition, and return by 30 October.
Join the Synod’s “Vic/Tas Uniting for Refugees Network” to stay in touch with refugee and asylum seeker issues, and the Church’s responses and advocacy campaigns.
This a letter signed by 844 asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island. Please read and share.
Social Justice Officer, Justice and International Mission Unit
Commission for Mission