Australia to move child refugees on Nauru to the US

Nauru is one of two camps where refugees and asylum seekers were put by Australian government.

    Human rights organisations have criticised Australia for its hardline policy towards asylum seekers [David Gray/Reuters]
    Human rights organisations have criticised Australia for its hardline policy towards asylum seekers [David Gray/Reuters]

    Australia has announced the last four children still in Nauru detention centre will soon be moved to the United States after the two countries reached an agreement.

    Nauru is a tiny island country, covering just 21 square kilometres, located northeast of Australia and close to the equator where hot and humid temperatures prevail all year.

    It was one of two camps where refugees and asylum seekers were put after Australia announced, five years ago, that anyone who tried to claim asylum after arriving by sea would never be allowed to settle.

    "Every asylum seeker child has now been removed from Nauru or has had their claim processed and has a clear path off the island," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

    Women, families and children were held on Nauru, while single men were kept on Manus, an island belonging to Papua New Guinea, where some of them have stayed for five years.

    At least 46 children were born on Nauru.

    "Over the past five months, we've been working quietly and methodically to remove children from Nauru. Today, there are only four children on Nauru and they will resettle permanently in the US," David Coleman, Australian Immigration minister, told reporters.

    When Morrison took over as prime minister last August, there were 113 asylum-seeking children on Nauru.

    The US agreed in 2016 to accept up to 1,250 refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea, but the vast majority of them have not yet been accepted. 

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    New Zealand has also offered to take some of the refugees, but Australia has declined the offer because it fears that would allow asylum seekers to enter through the "back door".

    Australia has stopped publishing data on the number of refugees held in the centres. Local media and refugee advocates estimate close to 1,000 people are currently held.

    According to David Manne, legal expert with the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, Sunday's announcement is good news for the children but said Australia still had no policy on what to do with ones who might arrive in the future.

    "After years and years of around 200 children being sent from Australia to Nauru and being held in cruel and degrading conditions, finally they can rebuild their lives after the devastating harm that has been caused to them," Manne told Al Jazeera.

    "Any future arrivals under the Australian policy would resolve in other children being held in the same kind of inhuman conditions. What we don't have is any significant and detailed shift in Australian policy if asylum seekers were to assert their fundamental human rights to seek asylum."

    He added that although the children now have somewhat of a future, more than 1,000 people remain at the centres.

    Horrid conditions

    In 2017, Australia closed its Manus detention centre and tried to resettle those present in the PNG communities, but the asylum seekers are still not allowed to travel off the island.

    Human rights organisations have criticised Australia for its hardline policy towards asylum seekers, saying the conditions on both Nauru and Manus are horrible.

    "Medical experts have reported very significant levels of depression, anxiety and other medical conditions," said Manne. "A lot of the prognoses are saying that the effects will be long term, that they will have a long-lasting effect."

    High levels of mental illness among those held in immigration detention facilities on the Australian mainland, Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru have been known for years.

    The Forgotten Children report published by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2014 documented serious levels of mental illness, trauma, depression, self-harm, sexual assault and suicide among asylum seekers. 

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    At least five people have committed suicide on Nauru since 2013. Seven have died on Manus during the same period, but several more have attempted suicide.

    Earlier this month, Iranian Kurd Behrouz Boochani won one of the most important Australian literature prizes, the Victorian Prize for Literature for his work he wrote about his detention on Manus.

    However, Boochani, who is still on Manus, was not able to collect the award as he remains on the island.

    Nauru: Australia's Guantanamo Bay?

    In the Field

    Nauru: Australia's Guantanamo Bay?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies