The Morrison government is just days away from removing all refugee children from Nauru, ending one of Australia's darkest chapters but shifting attention to the future of hundreds of men still languishing offshore.
So how are these newcomers faring? Ahead of my recent talk at the University of New South Wales’s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, I met Sri Lankan parents of three children – including a baby born under difficult circumstances in the Pacific Island nation of Nauru – who are now living on the US west coast, happy that their children will receive an education, have a good future and experience freedom. The father, however, fears the earnings from his job at an Indian restaurant will not be sufficient to pay the rent for a two-bedroom apartment and other bills.
Whilst Australians are invariably hesitant about newcomers, what gives me confidence is our pragmatic acceptance. That seeming contradictory response is shown consistently in opinion polling and over long periods. We are favourably impressed with the personal experience we have of the neighbour or shopkeeper who is Italian, Chinese or Vietnamese.
I fear that now the collective heartstrings of the Australian public have been plucked, and the Kids Off Nauru campaign has effectively succeeded, the fate of the remaining refugees and asylum seekers who continue to languish in indefinite detention will be forgotten by the public, advocacy groups and politicians.
Two children together with their family due to arrive in Australia from Nauru today. Four children together with their families accepted for the US but still waiting on Nauru. This leaves a family with one child on Nauru. There are around 1100 adults in total on Nauru and Manus.
Even when Home Affairs admits to making a wrong decision – as in rejecting an applicant without reviewing available evidence – they lack the discretionary entitlement, let alone the courage to review the decision. Administrative hierarchies threaten. Bullies at the top- a Minister or a Departmental Secretary – could affect the careers of junior employees. From case managers to their supervisors, from area officers to directors and assistant directors, bureaucratic inertia prevails. Even when asked to review an obvious mistake, the response sounds like a Soviet style refrain: ‘we cannot review a decision once it has been made.’
Today about 480 asylum seekers are left on Nauru, including seven children, and roughly 624 refugees are on Manus Island.
Some of the children brought to Australia by court order were as young as 10, and had attempted suicide on multiple occasions, but were still refused the treatment ordered by doctors by Australian government bureaucrats.
SBS News has obtained 161 pages of documents detailing the vast amount of medication prescribed inside the offshore detention centre on Nauru.
The following was posted online by a respected group - the Combined Action Refugee Group (CRAG) which brings together people across the Geelong region in Victoria, from a variety of backgrounds (Refugee Support Groups, Church and Community Groups, Unions, Political Groups, Social Justice and Social Action Groups, students and individuals) united by the shared aim of advocating for a just, humane and welcoming policy towards refugees and people seeking asylum.
5 THINGS WE CAN LEARN FROM THE CASE OF RAHAF AL-QUNUN
1. Refugees are people fleeing life-threatening persecution (based on race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion) which does not necessarily involve war. If they are returned, they will most likely be killed by their persecutors.
2. Even people who do have access to passports risk being detected by their persecutors if they use them. This is why people sometimes need to acquire fake passports and/or travel by boat (this, and the fact that some people don't have any access to passports in their countries of nationality in the first place).
3. Countries which are not signatories to the UN Refugee Convention do not provide protection for refugees. Thailand was about to hand Rahaf back to her persecutors. This is why people often need to pass through non-signatory countries (e.g India, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia) in order to get to safety in a signatory country.
4. There is no queue for refugee resettlement. The idea of a world-wide, 'take-a-number' system is a complete myth. Interviews and assessments happen based on factors such as the available resources in any given place, the level of co-operation of 'hosting' (in this case detaining) governments, and the particular vulnerabilities of the refugees concerned. Resettlement only happens after assessments are complete, and when there are offers from signatory countries. This could take many, many years (as is the case for refugees currently waiting in UNHCR camps or places like Indonesia where there are few supports and constant risk of deportation), it could occur in a year or two (as was the case for the people Australia resettled from Syria), or it may be almost immediate (as in Rahaf's case). There is no set time-frame.
5. Refugees do not "country shop". According to the UN Refugee Convention, refugees should take the first offer of protection (i.e. being allowed to safely stay in a signatory country). Other offers may not come, and people can’t accept one offer for resettlement then apply for another (unless there is a subsequent case of persecution in the resettlement country). In Rahaf's case, she was on her way to Australia but Canada offered her resettlement while Australia was still thinking about it, and so she accepted. People seeking asylum often move through non-signatory countries which do not provide protection (Thailand in Rahaf's case), in order to get to safe signatory countries which do offer protection. All refugees want is freedom in a place that will be safe for them.