Former Nauru workers react to Peter Dutton’s Interview

Here are some reactions to an interview with the Australian Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, on Talk to Al Jazeera.

Judith Reen, former teacher on Nauru:

It is a distortion to state that Australia is one of the most generous providers of humanitarian places in the world.

As Robin Davies, of the Refugee Council of Australia, states, refugees resettled through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) make up less than 0.45 percent of the world’s displaced people.

Minister Dutton [Peter, the Australian immigration minister] refers to the 18,000 resettled in Australia through UNHCR, while official figures state 13,750 is Australia’s base-line intake and a further 12,000 from Syria have been pledged – but after one year only around 3,000 of the additional quota have been resettled.

While it is important to process applications in an orderly fashion, it is also important to recognise the urgency of the world’s largest refugee crisis in history.

Cherry picking data does nothing to help those in immediate and dire need.

If the Australian programme is, as Minister Dutton claimed in his interview, based on permanent resettlement, why then were Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) re-introduced on October 18, 2013?

TPV holders are Australia’s second-class refugees and have a three-year visa with no family reunion or travel rights.

TPVs are discriminatory and hinder resettlement. Australia is the only country to grant such visas to those found to be owed protection and, as Dutton himself stated on April 4, 2016, there are now 28,290 people living on temporary protection visas in Australia.

Despite Minister Dutton’s claims, people arriving by boat and seeking asylum have not broken Australian or international law.

They are not illegal. An overwhelming majority of asylum seekers arriving by boat are found to be refugees, and those on Manus and Nauru are no exception.

Minister Dutton states that “they can go home” and fails to acknowledge that the very definition of a refugee is someone who cannot go home due to well-founded fear of persecution.

The Rohingya students in my class were stateless, the unaccompanied Hazara boys in my class fled the Taliban and bore the scars, our school captain was a Syrian from Aleppo, the Iraqis were fleeing ISIS. None of them could go home.

If Minister Dutton does not want to see these children any where but a loving home, he will abide by the principle of non-refoulement as enshrined in the Refugee Convention and act now to resettle them in a safe and permanent manner.

The minister states that we spend hundreds of millions of dollars to assist refugees in Indonesia, Regional Processing Centres and on shore. Meanwhile we have spent A$9.6bn on offshore processing alone since 2013.

I can tell you unequivocally that the average Nauruan citizen, and those left in limbo on Nauru and Manus both within and outside of the camp, would not consider themselves assisted by this funding.

They are still living in substandard conditions and still do not have permanent resettlement options.

Like Minister Dutton I too am proud of the way in which Australia humanely resettles the lucky few beneficiaries of Australia’s humanitarian intake.

I am in fact the daughter of one of the 90,000 who arrived between 1949 and 1950 and were accepted as refugees without a period of inhumane detention.

This was a time in which Australia took record numbers of humanitarian entrants. Since the UNCHR’s inception the greatest number of refugees accepted into Australia was the intake of 1980-81 under Malcolm Fraser, which was 22,545.

While Minister Dutton claims we are receiving record numbers of refugees, this number clearly exceeds the actual intake for 2015-16 of 13,750 as well as about 3,000 additional Syrians.

Minister Dutton repeatedly states the need for an orderly migration programme, refusing to acknowledge that fleeing persecution and war does not happen in an orderly fashion.

This is why other countries such as Germany, the UK, Sweden and Canada process asylum-seeker claims in country regardless of mode of arrival.

In 2015 Sweden received 35,800 unaccompanied minors alone. This was five times their quota for 2014. That is how you deal with the facts and respond to a refugee crisis.

I worked with 29 unaccompanied minors who were forced on to planes on Christmas Island and assured that they were privileged to be going to a processing centre where their claims and thus resettlement would be expedited.

They are still there. Other unaccompanied minors who remained on Christmas Island are now settled in Australia. This is an arbitrary, not orderly process.

In response to the Moss Review, three to five Australian Federal Police staff have been stationed on Nauru in a training capacity with an explicit mandate not to be involved in investigations.

The NPF (Nauru Police Force) lacks the training and facilities to properly investigate allegations. There are no forensic tools, for example which can be used to conduct investigations into sexual assault.

During my contract on Nauru there were no police officers trained to manage the clinical and forensic interviewing of children and families in a non-leading and sensitive manner.

There was no child protection framework and no independent oversight of the ad hoc investigations which were conducted.

I would like to respectfully refute Minister Dutton’s claims that none of the allegations relating to Wilsons guards was investigated by Wilsons.

I refer to one such incident on 3/9/15 in which a female asylum seeker was advised by a Nauruan guard not to press charges against a fellow Nauruan guard who physically assaulted her 14-year-old son.

The incident was dealt with by the Wilsons’ investigation team which is clearly a conflict of interest.

Wilsons had responsibility for deciding which complaints made within the Regional Processing Centre would be referred to the Nauru Police Force, minimising the number of allegations subject to criminal investigation.

Evidence submitted to the Senate Inquiry into Allegations and Conditions on Nauru, August 2015, stated that those investigations which were passed on to the NPF were frequently misplaced and not pursued.

Those who made such complaints were often subject to threats and harassment by guards within the centre in an effort to coerce them to withdraw their complaints.

As Minister Dutton was intent on discussing only the facts, I would like to make him aware that the well-resourced school he referred to as current was closed by his department in July of 2015.

The building was repurposed as offices for Wilsons training, Immigration and the Nauru Government.

I’d also like to address his statement that people sought asylum in Nauru or PNG when the Minister knows full well that asylum seekers were taken there against their will.

Furthermore, if Minister Dutton puts faith in the Nauruan and Papua New Guinea processing of refugees he should be above calling those granted refugee status country shoppers or economic migrants.

It is true that it is difficult to keep “emotion out of it” but unlike the minister I don’t have the luxury of emotional distance. I worked with the victims of this policy for two years.

I wish I could tell him personally that I am not a politically motivated creature. I am a school teacher, horrified at Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees on Manus and Nauru.

I do not condone an open border policy, nor do I think that the people detained on Nauru and Manus should necessarily come to Australia.

Those who have been held in limbo on Manus and Nauru for three to four years have accumulated trauma which has left many with even more complex needs.

It is incumbent upon the Australian government to take a bipartisan approach to ensuring that these men, women and children are resettled as soon as possible in a country with the facilities and rule of law to protect and rehabilitate them and allow them to rebuild their lives.

Evan Davis, former teacher on Nauru:

Minister Dutton acknowledges that the imprisonment of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru is being used as a deterrent. Children are being tortured and traumatised on Nauru so the Australian government can broadcast to the world.

You try to come here by boat and this is what will happen to you.

If the boats have been stopped then it is time to close Nauru.

We don’t need to continue to traumatise children on Nauru for the purpose of using them as an example of how poorly you will be treated if you try to come to Australia by boat.

The issue of keeping asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru cannot be justified on any terms. It is cruel and inhumane.

The system is designed to break people’s spirits, to grind them into the ground, to de-humanise people and to deprive them of any dignity.

The children are not attending the school in acceptable numbers and the asylum seekers are not welcome in the new hospital.

The asylum seekers and refugees have not found safety and security in Nauru.

Mr Dutton’s reference to the school classrooms is completely inaccurate. The classrooms and the teachers Mr Dutton refers to were at the school located in RPC 1.

This school was closed in July 2015 and the teachers are no longer working on Nauru. There are photos taken in 2015 of Nauru college.

The classrooms and toilets are not of a suitable standard. There are no modern facilities.

Mr Dutton is either deliberately misleading the public or he is ignorant of the actual situation on Nauru. I know the truth, I know what has happened and is happening on Nauru – I was a witness.

I am not against the Australia’s immigration programme; what I am against is the torturing and traumatising of children.

There is no doubt the 2015 Border Force Act had the effect of preventing people from speaking out. This Act has been very successful in preventing people from sharing information.

That is the intent and that is the effect.

I am not trying to subvert a fair or successful immigration process. What I am against is the process of torturing, traumatising and de-humanising children.

Source: Al Jazeera

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