The last children refugees to be held in Australia’s privately run ‘regional processing centre’ on Nauru have left for the United States as of this month. The detention facility on the small island nation in the South Pacific has long been used as part of Australia’s hardline “Stop the Boats” policy, which prevents any individual that journeyed by boat from seeking asylum in the country. Those living in this facility – as well as those in similar ones on Manus Island and Papua New Guinea – have been subjected to deplorable conditions for years, lacking proper nutrition, shelter, and medical care.
These new developments come after years of backlash and opposition by international human rights organizations and the United Nations against Australian immigration policy. In 2016, UN Special Rapporteur on Migrant Human Rights François Crepeau conducted an intensive investigation into the conditions on Nauru, describing them as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading”. He continued by claiming that “Australia would vehemently protest if its citizens were treated like this by other countries”. Although the Australian government continued to insist that the policies had ended, international rights groups like the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) could not corroborate these claims until now. It was not until Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced in a statement three weeks ago that “every asylum seeker child has now been removed from Nauru … or has a clear path off the island” that progress had officially been made on the situation.
The Australian government has historically taken a conservative hardline stance on immigration policy. In the postwar period, the existence of programs such as the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme attempted to further populated the country, but also allowed for restrictions on the number of ethnically Asian and Pacific Islander persons allowed to immigrate through the White Australia Policy. Today, Australia has continued this legacy by limiting the flow of refugees from South Asia that attempt to seek asylum there. One essential supporter of this policy is Morrison, who originally rose to prominence as the nation’s hardline Immigration Minister. Although moving these refugees to ‘processing’ islands rather than sending them back to their country of origin was a politically expedient short-term fix, it has been allowed to spiral into a decade-and-a-half long policy. It is also unsurprising that these camps have fallen into such disrepair as Nauru remains one of the poorest and most remote countries on Earth. Therefore, even though the most vulnerable of the asylum seekers have been removed from the island, it is essential that the international community continue to put pressure on the Australian government to shut down these camps permanently.
The Guardian has confirmed that more than 77 percent of the asylum seekers on Nauru have been confirmed to have a “well-founded fear of persecution” should they return to their country of origin. This indicates that they are not only entitled to legal protection, but also permanent resettlement in a new country. Since Nauru does not have the infrastructure to accommodate such a relatively large population of nearly 600 refugees – as reported by the BBC – the burden falls to Australia to rectify the situation.
Although the resettlement of children refugees is certainly a step in the right direct for the Australian government, the international community must continue to pressure them to fully end this heinous policy for all refugees. If Australia fails to correct this mistake, it could further damage their relationship with the international community with regards to immigration and drag the island nations they have been using further into instability in the future.
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