Asylum seekers increase at Nauru

The number of asylum seekers on Nauru has surpassed 100, with two more groups totaling 37 individuals recently sent to the Pacific Island. Among these “unauthorized maritime arrivals” are 33 Bangladeshis discovered on Christmas Island on May 9, including one woman, whose boat was damaged by bad weather. The second group consists of four Vietnamese men who arrived near Broome on May 10, as reported by  Australia.

In March, Australian Border Force (ABF) officials reported 54 people on Nauru who had been transferred from Australia, increasing to 64 by May. An ABF spokesperson declined to comment on the specific numbers, stating the ABF does not discuss operational matters. Australia’s policy of deterring asylum seeker boats is under pressure, with three boats arriving in one week in May.

On May 31, the ABF confirmed that five Rwandan men who arrived at Saibai Island were returned to Papua New Guinea, but they did not comment on the arrivals from Broome and Christmas Island. Rear Admiral Brett Sonter, head of Operation Sovereign Borders, avoided detailed discussion about the 33 people from Christmas Island, emphasizing the need for operational sensitivity and safety.

Greens immigration spokesperson David Shoebridge criticized the government’s lack of transparency and refusal to answer questions, accusing them of “disappearing” asylum seekers and displaying “performative cruelty.” Asylum seekers arriving by sea without permission are classified as “unauthorized maritime arrivals” and are not allowed to settle in Australia even if they qualify for protection under refugee conventions.

Nauru’s offshore processing center, emptied in June 2023, was reactivated in September with the arrival of 11 asylum seekers, the first such transfer in nine years. Since then, there have been four transfers, the largest involving 39 people. There are currently no child asylum seekers and only one woman among those on the island. Nine asylum seekers have abandoned their claims and returned to their home countries.

Most asylum seekers on Nauru are held in the RPC1 detention center, with different groups kept separate. Around 12 Chinese nationals are living within the Nauruan community. Home affairs officials informed the Senate that asylum seekers undergo health and quarantine processes upon arrival, and living conditions at RPC1 include access to medical care and supportive programs.

Australia’s offshore processing regime on Nauru has cost $240 million this financial year up to March, with the regional processing center costing $111 million and settlement services $122 million. Shoebridge highlighted the expense, noting it costs $4 million per year to detain a single asylum seeker on Nauru. When questioned, Senator Murray Watt, representing the home affairs minister, confirmed that this expenditure is government policy.

Ogy Simic, head of advocacy for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, expressed concern over the emerging physical and mental health issues among detainees, who are being denied access to support agencies and families. Simic called for government transparency about the future of those held on Nauru to prevent prolonged, indefinite detention.

Simic criticized the lack of updates and information provided to humanitarian organizations like ASRC, emphasizing the need for the government to reassure the public that history will not repeat itself with indefinite detentions.

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